Don't Just Blame Boulder Prosecutors

This photo provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department shows murder suspect John Mark Karr Sunday, Aug. 20, 2006, in Los Angeles. Karr faces charges in JonBenet Ramsey's murder. (AP Photo/Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department)
AP Photo/L.A. County Sheriffs Dept.
Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and

Are you surprised the case against John Mark Karr fell apart? Of course you aren't. You would have been more surprised had it stayed together — had it been conclusively proven by DNA evidence or otherwise that Karr really was the little girl's killer. Because you knew even before some of the major players said so Monday that the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation always ends up being a black hole of unmet expectations, great disappointments, baffling inconsistencies, official incompetence, and unimaginable creeps.

Karr and his Boulder pursuers are only the latest in a long and ever-growing string of sorry or sleazy people whose lives and careers, intentionally or otherwise, have been made worse by their involvement in this murder mystery. Call it a curse. Call it bad karma. Call it whatever you will. No one gets off the island alive. The case attracts false hopes the way a country dog attracts fleas. The investigation wins only for its ability to lose spectacularly, as it did here with its attempt to see if Karr ever had truly acted on his sick obsessions.

In the wake of Monday's pre-case collapse of the People v. Karr, there is plenty of blame to go around and not all of it ought to be aimed at Boulder investigators and prosecutors. Despite his defense attorney's silly protestations to the contrary, Karr deserves most of the blame for the 12 roller-coaster days of intrigue and doubt that we have just endured. He fueled the flames of suspicion even as he was undercutting his self-professed ties to the murder. He traded straight-up a potential lifetime of illegitimate sexual prey for a few moments of high visibility in a world gone mad. He loved JonBenet so much, so he says, that he thinks he killed her or thinks it was cute and clever to make people falsely believe it was so.

His life now is worse, much worse, than it was before and that alone ought to give solace to the hundreds of millions of people who believe he is guilty of something more than being a creep. He may think the fame is worth it now — hey, it got him a free one-way ticket out of Thailand and brewing legal trouble there. But wait until his California trial gets closer. Wait until the nation's child-porn investigators turn their sights upon him. Ten will barely get you one that he will be suffering, in prison or elsewhere, long after most people have forgotten his name.

The media, too, deserve their measure of shame for the endless hype and the overwrought speculation that marked this latest chapter in the Ramsey story. It was the media that took the tinder spark and generated the conflagration we have just witnessed. We were warned by Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy that the investigation was just closer to its beginning than its start but we sure didn't listen, did we? It was the media that created the highest of expectations and now is ready to crucify prosecutors for not meeting them. It was the media that took a 10-year-old investigation and decided that it would be and could be and most importantly should have been resolved in less than 10 days or maybe even 10 hours.

And then there are the good public officials in Boulder, Colo., who probably wish today that they had never heard of Thai Airlines, or grilled shrimp, or John Karr. Do yourself a favor. Read the People's Motion To Quash Arrest Warrant filed Monday afternoon by prosecutors as they waved bye-bye to their case against Karr. It represents the most comprehensive summary yet of why law enforcement officials acted the way they did when they did in bringing Karr in from the cold when they did. It doesn't answer all the questions reasonable people will have about the way the investigation was handled. But it doesn't make police and prosecutors look like idiots, either.

Colorado's law enforcement community, and Boulder officials, made two critical mistakes during this episode, neither of which would have changed the outcome here — no DNA linking Karr to Ramsey is the sine qua non of this story — but both of which would have dramatically changed public expectations before Karr was let off the hook in Colorado and changed public perceptions now that the case is over before it started. In other words, Karr would not have been charged even if these mistakes had not been made. But without these mistakes we would be leaving his chapter in this story with a much better taste in our mouths.