Former JonBenet slaying suspect freed after judge dismisses child pornography charges

Friday, October 6th 2006, 8:46 am
By: News On 6

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) _ After two months behind bars in Colorado and California, John Mark Karr walked free when a judge dismissed child pornography charges against the former JonBenet Ramsey slaying suspect.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ordered Karr released Thursday, after the prosecution conceded it could not prove the misdemeanor case against him.

Karr, 41, did not comment to reporters as he left jail flanked by his attorneys and rode off in a sport utility vehicle.

He was returned to California from Thailand last month to face the five-year-old pornography case after DNA evidence cleared him of killing the child beauty queen in her Boulder, Colo., home in 1996.

The pornography case fell apart almost as quickly, as investigators admitted losing the computer seized from Karr in April 2001, when he was working as a substitute teacher in Sonoma and Napa counties. The computer allegedly held the illegal images.

``The impression that we've had all along is that the prosecution had every intention of getting this case to trial, regardless of the evidence,'' said defense lawyer Robert Amparan. ``I am pleasantly surprised by them having done the right thing.''

In dropping the case, prosecutor Joan Risse said she couldn't prove when or whether Karr downloaded or accessed the illegal computer images.

She also acknowledged that if Karr was convicted, he would not have served any additional time in jail because he spent several months behind bars awaiting trial in 2001. Her office was seeking to have him register as a sex offender.

District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said his office ``exhausted all resources available'' to prosecute Karr and suggested the delay in bringing Karr to trial was to blame.

``Unfortunately, Mr. Karr has benefited from his flight from these charges on the eve of trial in 2001,'' Passalacqua said in a statement.

Karr had fled the state after being released from jail in 2001 and had been on the lam until his arrest in Bangkok, which caused a sensation when he told reporters he was with JonBenet when she died.

Karr, who moved to California from Alabama with his wife and three sons, first came to the attention of Sonoma County officials after an informant told authorities about alarming e-mails he had been sending her.

Investigators looked at Karr in connection with the unsolved 1997 slaying of 12-year-old Georgia Moses, whose body was found dumped along a highway in Sonoma County, Karr's lawyers said.

The sexually explicit pictures of children were later found during a search of his home, authorities said.

His arrest led school officials to strip him of his teaching credential, and his marriage ended in divorce later that year.

In hearings during the past two weeks, the defense accused prosecutors of misconduct for failing to alert the judge sooner that evidence was missing, and they questioned the strength of the evidence that remained. The defense also said the search warrants were based on an unreliable witness with a history of mental illness.

Sheriff Bill Cogbill said he accepted the prosecutor's decision to drop the charges.

``We do acknowledge that there were some performance issues five years ago when we worked this case,'' Cogbill said in a statement. ``We're conducting an internal affairs investigation into these issues, and we're continuing an audit of our evidence handling procedures.''