JonBenet Killing Is Far From Solved

American John Mark Karr, center, is surround by Thai and American officers as he is led out of detention center for a police news conference at Immigration office in Bangkok, Thailand Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006. The former schoolteacher has been arrested in Thailand in the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. AP

By CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen


We've all waited 10 years for answers. But it is clear from the "no comment" comments Thursday from Boulder, Colo., that we'll have to wait a little longer to figure out what's what with the JonBenet Ramsey murder mystery.

It's also clear that officials in the otherwise sleepy college town have learned their lessons from the first Ramsey Era, circa 1996-1999, when leaked information and otherwise inappropriate public chatter doomed an already-flailing investigation.

This time, the District Attorney's Office is zipping it.

Sure, we know now that we have a chatty murder suspect who apparently will be winging his way to America soon to face the music. And, sure, he's already on record as saying he loved the little girl both before and after he brutally killed her (by accident, he says).

But, honestly: How many people out there truly believe his story — in the absence of any independent proof that he was even at the Ramsey home on the night of the murder? Right now, John Mark Karr seems as much a suicide-by-infamy candidate as he does an earnest confessor to a horrible crime.

Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy said all the right things Thursday morning from the very spot where seven years ago one of her predecessors, Alex Hunter, had to concede defeat in the case. Or, more precisely, Lacy didn't say anything specific or insightful or profound at all about the arrest or the case. That's precisely what Colorado's ethical rules require, of course, but it was so shocking to see a prosecutor take the podium in front of live, wall-to-wall media coverage and not declare a defendant guilty on sight that some of the bolder and self-righteous television-types suggested she was somehow letting us all down by her discretion.

She wasn't. She was doing the right thing.

Unfortunately for Lacy — and for any other person who would rather wait to see the fight unfold before its winner is declared — the silence of Boulder County officials already has created a media vacuum of speculation and rumor, of presumption and implication, that swirled around Karr on Thursday even as the details of his transfer from Thailand to America were being hammered out.

What we know today about Karr's involvement in the murder couldn't fit into the eye of a needle. What we don't know about that involvement couldn't fit into Lake Ontario.

Get used to that. Silence is going to be the norm in this case until the arrest affidavit, which presumably offers some details that aren't yet publicly known, is unsealed. The problem with the timing of that happy event is that both prosecutors and Karr's attorneys, whomever they turn out to be, won't be so eager to allow that document to make it into the public domain — especially if, as Lacy strongly suggested Thursday, the Ramsey murder investigation is an ongoing, even burgeoning concern.

We could be weeks and more likely even months away from knowing why Boulder authorities believe Karr — among all the kooks of the world — really could have killed JonBenet.

In the meantime, there are these questions:

  • What did the authorities know before Karr's stunning admissions that made them think he murdered the little girl in her Boulder home in late 1996?

  • Why did they arrest Karr now?

  • How will they explain away the testimony of, for example, Karr's ex-wife, who says she was with him that Christmas in Alabama?

  • What specifically is the incriminating information contained in those e-mails between Karr and college professor Michael Tracey, the Ramsey partisan who seems to have a Forrest Gump-like presence in this investigation?

  • Is there a scientific or physical link between Karr and the murder scene? And if that unmatched DNA from JonBenet's body does not match Karr, what are the prosecutors going to do then?

    It's no wonder that Lacy, before going into her rope-a-dope routine with journalists, quoted a man who knows a bit about premature judgments. "We should all heed the poignant advice of John Ramsey," Lacy told a worldwide audience. "Do not jump to conclusions. Do not speculate. Let the justice system take its course."

    That justice system ultimately is going to have to deal with Karr's comments during the Thai version of our infamous "perp walk." Watching that video, you could almost envision a modern-day Jack Ruby jumping out from the crowd to fire a bullet into Karr's midsection. For a moment, you could also believe you were watching the "Year of Living Dangerously."

    Karr's creepy comments alone are not going to convict him — even if they make it before an American jury. His defense attorneys will say (you can make book on this) that he was threatened or pressured by Thai officials, that he said what he said figuring it would get him back home more quickly and more safely regardless of the consequences once he arrived here.

    Prosecutors clearly will have to buttress those seemingly inconsistent statements with independent evidence. Oddly enough, Boulder County may have to become. in the eyes of Karr's jury, his biggest booster — vouching for his version of events instead of calling him, as 99 percent of prosecutors do, a liar.

    For example, one big shaky nugget of information making the rounds Thursday had Karr reportedly telling Thai officials that he had drugged JonBenet and then had sex with her before she died. I doubt that he said this to anyone in Thailand — it is precisely the sort of bad information that circulates in the early hours of this sort of a story.

    But if Karr really did say that, and if he really believes it and is willing to repeat it again once he gets to Colorado, prosecutors have a problem — because that aspect of his story contradicts the results of JonBenet's autopsy, which showed no drug use and no penetration of the sort that would be involved with a grown man having sex with a 6-year-old girl.

    You get the idea. Right now there are plenty of reasons not to back Karr as the answer to everyone's prayers for a clean and neat resolution to this case.

    That doesn't figure to change anytime soon. You have been teased and tantalized, frustrated and angered, mystified and enchanted for 10 years by the Ramsey case. That clearly won't end in a day, or in a week, or even in the next few months. Get used to that, too.

    • Sean Alfano

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