A former American school teacher said publicly Thursday he was with JonBenet Ramsey when she was killed and called the 6-year-old’s death “an accident,” a stunning admission that should help answer 10 years of questions in the unsolved murder case.
John Mark Karr, 41, will be taken within the week to Colorado, where he will face charges of first degree murder, kidnapping and child sexual assault, Ann Hurst of the Department of Homeland Security told a news conference in Bangkok.
“I was with JonBenet when she died,” John Mark Karr told reporters afterward, visibly nervous and stuttering as he spoke. “Her death was an accident.”
Asked if he was innocent of the crime, Karr said: “No.”
Karr confessed to the killing after his arrest Wednesday at his downtown Bangkok apartment by Thai and American authorities, said Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, head of Thailand’s immigration police.
He said Karr insisted his crime was not first-degree murder but that she died during a kidnapping attempt that went awry.
“He said it was second-degree murder. He said it was unintentional. He said he was in love with the child, she was a pageant queen,” Suwat said.
Karr declined to say what his connection was to the Ramsey family. Dressed in a turquoise polo shirt and khaki trousers, he appeared ashen with an expressionless look on his face.
An attorney for the Ramsey family said Wednesday that Karr once lived near the family in Conyers, Ga.
JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of the family’s home in Boulder, Colo., on Dec. 26, 1996.
Wednesday’s arrest was a surprise development in one of America’s most lurid murder cases, which had left a cloud of suspicion over her family after years went by with no arrests. Some feared the case would never be solved.
Striking video images of the blonde-haired girl in child beauty pageants helped propel the case into one of the highest-profile mysteries in the United States.
A law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that Karr had been communicating periodically with somebody in Boulder who had been following the case and cooperating with law enforcement officials.
A University of Colorado spokesman, Barrie Hartman, said journalism professor Michael Tracey communicated with Karr over several months and contacted police. The university spokesman said he didn’t know what prompted Tracey to become suspicious of Karr.
Tracey produced a documentary in 2004 called “Who Killed JonBenet?” A woman who answered the phone at a number under his name said he didn’t live there anymore; his office phone mailbox was full.
The Ramseys learned that police were investigating Karr at least a month before the June death of JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey, of ovarian cancer, the family said.
In a statement Wednesday, father John Ramsey said that if his wife had lived to see Karr’s arrest, she “would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today’s development almost 10 years after our daughter’s murder.”
Suwat quoted Karr as saying he tried to kidnap JonBenet for a $118,000 ransom but that his plan went awry and he strangled her. Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note in the house demanding $118,000 for her daughter.
Investigators said at one point that JonBenet’s parents were under an “umbrella of suspicion” in the slaying, and some news accounts cast suspicion on JonBenet’s older brother, Burke. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.
Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved. The Ramseys moved back to Atlanta after their daughter’s slaying.
“It’s been a very long 10 years, and I’m just sorry Patsy isn’t here for me to hug her neck,” said Lin Wood, the family’s longtime attorney.
“John and Patsy lived their lives knowing they were innocent, trying to raise a son despite the furor around them,” Wood told MSNBC.
Suwat said U.S. authorities informed Thai police on Aug. 11 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Karr on charges of premeditated murder. The warrant was sent to Thai police on Wednesday.
“Through investigation we were able to determine where his residence was and the Thais arrested him,” Hurst said. “He did not resist. He did express surprise.”
Hurst said Karr has been “very cooperative” with authorities and that he’s shown a “variety of emotions.”
Suwat said Karr arrived in Bangkok on June 6 from Malaysia to look for a teaching job. It was not clear whether he had gotten a job, the police officer said.
Karr’s visa has been revoked as an “undesirable person” given the accusations against him, and U.S. authorities were expected to take him to the United States in the next few days, Suwat said.
Hurst, with the department’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Bangkok, said that Karr had left the United States several years ago and had not returned.
The immigration and customs office had assisted the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office and the Royal Thai Police in the investigation.
The suspect, who has been in Thailand five times over the past two years, was being detained by immigration police pending arrival of U.S. officials, Suwat said.
When asked how he could travel for so many years in Asia, and whether he was independently wealthy, Hurst responded, “We’re asking the same questions.”
Police said Karr had been living in a dormitory-style hotel called The Blooms in a neighborhood of massage parlors and travel agents that cater to expatriate residents and sex tourists. The nine-story hotel offers rooms for as short as three-hour rentals.
The district attorney in Boulder, Mary Lacy, said the arrest followed several months of work.
She said Karr, who had traveled extensively across the world, may also be connected to a prior case in Santa Rosa County, Calif. She did not provide further details.
Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse confirmed the child pornography charges and arrest warrant against a John Mark Karr, though she cautioned that she didn’t know if he was the same person held Bangkok. State records show Karr lost his teaching credential in 2002.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press