Boulder, Colo., District Attorney Mary Lacy felt the need to explain herself amid questions about whether she should have spent the time and money pursuing a lead that didn’t pan out.
The explanation should not have been necessary.
Lacy spent an hour and a half last week discussing the arrest of John Mark Karr in Thailand and his extradition to the United States for DNA testing that didn’t link him to the 1996 murder of 5-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, despite his confession to the crime.
Karr’s statements evidently were the rantings of a deluded mind obsessed with Ramsey and other little girls. He also seemed unusually interested in the 1991 kidnapping and murder of Polly Klass, who was 12 when she died.
Doubts arose immediately after Karr’s arrest on Aug. 16, as observers noted that some information simply didn’t match crime scene evidence — despite Karr’s apparently obsessive research on the case. For example, he said he drugged the girl before having sex with her, but blood samples taken from her body didn’t show any drugs.
Many quickly came to suspect that Karr simply was a deranged man who wanted attention — indeed, he already had written a manuscript for a movie about his relationship with Ramsey, and wanted Johnny Depp to portray him.
Boulder spent nearly $10,000 getting Karr arrested and brought back from Thailand. Now that the charges against him were dropped, many have criticized Lacy, saying the money was wasted. Colorado Gov. Bill
Owens has ridiculed the prosecutor, calling the affair “the most expensive DNA test in Colorado history.”
Most of the expense would not have been necessary, however, had Karr allowed officials to take a DNA sample from him in Thailand. His refusal made it necessary to seek his arrest and extradition to Colorado, where prosecutors had the authority to take a tissue sample without Karr’s consent.
Lacy was justified in pursuing the matter, and Boulder District Court Judge Roxanne Bailin was right to sign the arrest warrant.
The nature of this case, and the worldwide attention it has drawn for nearly a decade have amplified every event and aspect related to it.
Lacy probably would have been criticized just as strongly if she had chosen not to thoroughly investigate Karr’s confession, even with the immediate inconsistencies.
We should also note that a district attorney’s role is different from that of contracted attorneys. Defense attorneys work toward favorable rulings from the courts, while prosecutors’ primary interest should be in attaining justice over convictions.
Prosecutors are expected to investigate cases as thoroughly as possible. The process aims not only to build the best case against the primary suspect, but also to eliminate other possible suspects. This was the very process Lacy undertook, and the fact that it cleared Karr should show that the process works, and that an innocent man would not be prosecuted, even despite his own incriminating declarations.
Some prosecutors have been found to withhold evidence that might have exonerated a defendant. The injustice to the defendant is obvious, but all of society is harmed when an innocent person is unjustly convicted.
We should resist the temptation to give Karr the conviction he apparently wanted, just to close this case. At the same time, however, we should not condemn a thorough review of his claim before determining that he is not Ramsey’s killer.
The publicity surrounding this case, which has been bizarre from the day this young girl was so brutally killed, and the cost involved in investigating Karr’s claims, should not overshadow that despite the cost, justice was served.