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Suspect held in JonBenet death may have Georgia link

Special to the Post

aimee.jones@rockdalecitizen.com

CONYERS - After nearly 10 years of dead-end leads, an arrest has been made in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, and the suspect in custody is a former second-grade schoolteacher who had lived in Conyers, according to multiple news sources.

Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the suspect as John Mark Karr, a 42-year-old American, and said he was being held in Bangkok, Thailand, on unrelated sex offense charges. Various news sources have reported that Karr will be brought back to the United States this weekend.

According to the Rocky Mountain News newspaper in Denver, Karr is believed to have lived in the Atlanta area between 1988 and 1992. JonBenet was born in Atlanta in 1990, and the Ramseys lived in Dunwoody for several years before moving to Colorado in 1991. The couple moved back to Atlanta after their daughter's slaying.

The Ramseys' family attorney, Lin Wood, said Karr was a teacher who had lived in Conyers. However, as of press time Wednesday evening, it was unclear how much of a connection Karr has to Conyers.

Officials with Rockdale County Public Schools said a preliminary search of their records was unable to verify that Karr was employed by the school district during the years he was believed to have lived in the Atlanta area. A more thorough search was planned for this morning, said Bonnie Knight, assistant superintendent for instruction at RCPS.

Neither Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington nor Conyers Police Chief David Cathcart had any records of Karr ever being logged into the county jail, nor did he appear on any county sex offender registry.

Conyers resident John Lang, a retired agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who was the case agent in the murder investigation based in Atlanta, has worked closely with the Boulder, Colo., Police Department throughout the past several years. He said Wednesday evening the news reports of Karr's arrest was a surprise, because it was the first time he had ever heard his name.

"(Karr's) name never surfaced, as far as I know," Lang said. "If it had during the investigation, we would certainly have had inquiries on this matter, we would have known of him. If we had anything regarding this guy, you can rest assured we would have investigated him."

Wood refused to say if the Ramseys knew the suspect and said he knew nothing else about the man. He said the arrest was vindication for JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, who had come under suspicion in the slaying. The attorney said the Ramseys learned about the suspect at least a month before Patsy Ramsey's death on June 24 after a long battle with ovarian cancer.

"It's been a very long 10 years, and I'm just sorry Patsy isn't here for me to hug her neck," Wood said.

JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of the family's home in Boulder on Dec. 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her daughter.

The image of blonde-haired little JonBenet in a cowgirl costume and other beauty pageant outfits has haunted TV talk shows ever since, helping feed myriad theories about her killer.

Investigators said at one point that JonBenet's parents were under an ''umbrella of suspicion" in the slaying. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.

In the months after the slaying, Patsy Ramsey went before the cameras, vigorously defending herself and her husband, chastising the media and blasting local law enforcement as incompetent.

Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved.

In a statement Wednesday, John Ramsey said: ''Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case, and had she lived to see this day, would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development almost 10 years after our daughter's murder.''

Lib Waters of Marietta visited the gravesites of Patsy and JonBenet Ramsey in the Atlanta suburb immediately after hearing news reports about the arrest.

Waters, who described herself as a longtime friend of the Ramsey family, taped a piece of notebook paper to JonBenet Ramsey's headstone that read: ''Dearest Patsy, Justice has come for you and Jon. Rest in peace.''

In 2003, a federal judge in Atlanta concluded that the evidence she reviewed suggested an intruder killed JonBenet. That opinion came with the judge's decision to dismiss a libel and slander lawsuit against the Ramseys by a freelance journalist, whom the Ramseys had named as a suspect in their daughter's murder. The Boulder district attorney at the time said she agreed with the judge's declaration.

Wood said Wednesday's arrest further vindicated his clients.

''I am sure there were still doubts in the minds of individuals whose thinking had been poisoned against this family because of the years of false accusations," Wood said.

''Today is additional vindication of the family, but I think that knowledgeable individuals familiar with the evidence in the case have known for many years that this family was falsely accused, that they were innocent and that what they lived through in the last 10 years was an American tragedy.''

Wood said he and the Ramseys "have been totally amazed and impressed with the professionalism of law enforcement" under Lacy's direction. Lacy became district attorney in 2001.

KUSA-TV of Denver, citing no sources, reported that the suspect has confessed to certain elements of the crime.

Bob Grant, a former Adams County district attorney who worked on the case, said there was never enough evidence to convince him that any potential suspect could be successfully prosecuted.

"I wasn't convinced it was an inside job, nor was I convinced it was an outside job,'' he said. "All the outside suspects were cleared after exhaustive investigation, and there were a whole lot of outside suspects."

The Associated Press and the Rocky Mountain News contributed to this article.