John Mark Karr, the schoolteacher who made worldwide headlines by confessing to one of the US' most notorious unsolved crimes, the murder of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, was abruptly cleared on Monday after the case against him collapsed.
Colorado prosecutors dismissed the arrest warrant against Karr hours before he was due for his first Colorado court appearance in the decade-old case, saying that DNA tests had failed to link him to the girl's body.
The hearing in JonBenet's hometown of Boulder was canceled, but Karr, 41, was taken back to jail because authorities in northern California asked that he be sent there to face child pornography charges.
An extradition hearing was scheduled for yesterday afternoon.
Karr's claims that he was with JonBenet when she died had been greeted with growing skepticism, and prosecutors said in legal papers that, without a DNA match, they had no evidence against him other than his "repeated insistence" that he committed the crime.
JonBenet's body was found in the basement of her Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996. The child beauty queen had been strangled to death, her skull fractured and mouth duct-taped. Forensic evidence suggests she was sexually assaulted.
The DNA taken from JonBenet's underwear, which was found to be the saliva of a white male mixed with her blood, has never been matched to a suspect in the murder.
Karr, however, was never formally charged in the slaying.
In court papers, District Attorney Mary Lacy defended the decision to arrest him and bring him back to the US for further investigation, saying he might have otherwise fled and may have been targeting children in Thailand.
Lacy said Karr emerged as a suspect in April after he spent several years exchanging e-mails and 11 telephone calls with a University of Colorado journalism professor who had produced documentaries on the case.
The District Attorney's office provided explicit details of Karr's statements to professor Michael Tracey, who alerted authorities. Karr told the professor he accidentally killed JonBenet during sex and tasted her blood after he injured her, prosecutors said.
"This information is critical because ... if Mr. Karr's account of his sexual involvement with the victim were accurate, it would have been highly likely that his saliva would have been mixed with the blood in the underwear," Lacy said in court papers.
She also said authorities found no evidence Karr was in Boulder at the time of the slaying.
The collapse of the case against Karr left authorities without a suspect in the murder and Lacy quickly came under fire.
"I find it incredible that Boulder authorities wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars to bring Karr to Colorado given such a lack of evidence," Colorado Governor Bill Owens said.
"Mary Lacy should be held accountable for the most extravagant and expensive DNA test in Colorado history," he said.
"This case is not closed," said Lacy, who planned to further explain her decision at a news conference yesterday.
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