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Ehrlich: Ramsey JonBenet Thailand Murder Presser

Ramsey JonBenet Murder Presser In Thailand


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- A pale, clean-cut American was arrested in Bangkok a decade after the beating and strangulation murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, and said on Thursday (August 17), "I was with JonBenet when she died" in her Colorado basement but her killing was "accidental".

A visibly nervous John Mark Karr, 41, said, "I love JonBenet, and she died accidentally.

"I was with JonBenet when she died," he told journalists.

Asked by a reporter at Bangkok's immigration detention center if he was "innocent" of involvement in her murder, Karr replied: "No."

Later, as he was escorted to his apartment to pick up his belongings, he told the Associated Press: "I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet. It's very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, that her death was unintentional, that it was an accident."

Asked what happened when JonBenet died, he said: "It would take several hours to describe that. It's a very involved series of events that would involve a lot of time. It's very painful for me to talk about it."

Ramsey's tiny torso was found in the basement of her parents' upscale home the day after Christmas 1996, along with a ransom note.

U.S. Homeland Security officials and Thai police seized Karr in his modest Bangkok apartment on Wednesday (August 16) afternoon, hours after a Colorado judge issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with Ramsey's death -- apparently based on a tip-off.

"Boulder County [Colorado] District Attorney's Office received information that a subject was providing information, and might be connected to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey," said Ann Hurst, Homeland Security attache at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

"Upon investigation, we were able to identify that subject, and that is John Mark Karr," Ms. Hurst said at a news conference in Bangkok's Department of Immigration Detention Center on Thursday (August 17).

Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul heads Thailand's powerful Immigration Department -- which has its own jail and interrogation techniques -- and gave the only official account of Karr's reaction upon arrest:

"According to my colleagues, my officer in the Detention Center, he [Karr] asked my officer, what [crime] he is charged.

"My officer said that you are charged with first degree murder. He [Karr] said, 'No no. Not first degree. Second degree...It was not supposed to be...not intentionally.'

If she had survived, Ramsey would today be a 16-year-old high school student.

An unsmiling Karr appeared startled, pale, well-groomed, and wearing a blue polo shirt when Thai immigration police brought him to face reporters on Thursday (August 17) at the detention center.

Karr was not linked to any crime in Thailand, and Bangkok officials appeared happy to send him to America.

His extradition to Colorado would be completed "within the week," Hurst said, indicating Karr had not asked for a local lawyer or protested against extradition.

"We are not looking for other suspects at this time," she said.

"He has been in Thailand possibly two months this time. He has prior visits to Thailand. He has traveled extensively across the world," Hurst said.

"He left the country [America] several years ago," and had not returned, Hurst said.

Using his real U.S. passport, Karr flew into Bangkok as "a regular tourist" from neighboring Malaysia, and applied to be a teacher at a private school in the Thai capital a few days ago, Suwat said at the joint news conference, flanked by Hurst and other U.S. and Thai officials.

Karr was living in an apartment on Si Bamphen street, which is popular among budget travelers in a somewhat seedy area undergoing gay gentrification -- a short walk from the Immigration Department where he was held on Thursday (August 17).

"To the best of our knowledge, he was living alone," Hurst said.

"He has been charged by the state of California -- sorry, Colorado -- for first degree murder after deliberation, first degree felony murder, first degree kidnapping, second degree kidnapping, and sexual assault on a child," Hurst said.

"There is a prior case...in California, that he may be connected to," the Homeland Security attache said.

In California, a school official said on Wednesday (August 16) that Karr had worked as an elementary school substitute teacher in Petaluma, according to Bay City News Service.

"I have no doubt it's him,'' said Steve Bolman, who is Petaluma school district's deputy superintendent of business administration.

Karr taught at K-6 elementary schools, from Dec. 8, 2000 until he was fired on April 2, 2001, and had the same birth date as the man held in Bangkok, Bolman said.

California's Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse said Karr fled after being charged in April 2001 in Sonoma County Superior Court with five misdemeanor counts of possession of child pornography.

Child pornography charges carry a 1,000 U.S. dollar fine and/or a year in jail, the report said.

A University of Colorado spokesman, Barrie Hartman, said journalism professor Michael Tracey communicated with Karr over several months, and Tracey contacted police, AP reported.

Tracey produced a documentary in 2004 called "Who Killed JonBenet?"

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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