Sat, Aug 26, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Attorneys vie to defend JonBenet suspect

PUBLICITY HOUNDS Dozens of lawyers have offered to defend John Karr for free, and his family hired a producer to look for media deals

AP , ATLANTA

A van carrying John Karr, second right, is shown arriving at the Boulder County Jail in Boulder, Colorado, on Thursday. Karr decided not to fight extradition to the state on a warrant listing charges of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault on a child in the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey in 1996.

PHOTO: AP

Three dozen lawyers have offered to represent John Karr -- for free in many cases -- against allegations that he murdered six-year-old beauty contestant JonBenet Ramsey.

The tug-of-war among defense attorneys over one of the biggest criminal cases in recent years -- one that has stoked interest because of perceived flaws in the prosecution's case -- raises questions about ethics and who has Karr's best interests in mind.

"There's something inherently wrong in hiring a lawyer who is volunteering to do it for publicity," said Connecticut attorney Mickey Sherman, whose high-profile clients include Michael Skakel, a cousin of the Kennedy.

Two California attorneys say they have been retained to represent Karr, but another who was with him at his only court hearing in the case said previously that Karr wanted a Colorado public defender.

Larry Garrison, a producer Karr's family hired to ferret out book and movie deals, said they want a big-time lawyer for the job. Some three dozen lawyers from around the country have already offered their services, many at no cost, he said Thursday.

"There are some people that are ambulance chasers, there are other people that legitimately want to help," Garrison said.

Garrison, sounding exhausted, said he hasn't returned any of the calls or e-mails from lawyers.

"To be honest, it's a blur right now," he said.

Defense lawyers say there is no rush for Karr to make up his mind on who will defend him, since the early hearings in the case are mostly perfunctory, and it would probably be better for a public defender in Boulder, Colorado, who is familiar with the legal system there to handle matters for now.

"It would probably be helpful for him to have an adviser on that who is not the one who will eventually take the case, someone who has his best interests at heart who doesn't have an economic motive," said Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred.

"The truth is, a lot of people don't have that luxury," she said.

Allred also noted that even if Karr chooses an attorney now, he can always change his mind later.

"It's obvious that John Mark Karr is not going to have the resources to pay an attorney," Allred said.

"Either he's going to have a public defender or a private attorney who will do it at no cost to him, that would probably do it for the challenge and the visibility," she said.

Sherman and Allred said they have not sought out Karr to defend him.

On Wednesday, California lawyers Patience Van Zandt and Jamie Harmon said they had been retained by Karr.

Van Zandt had represented Karr in a prior child pornography case.

But Haydeh Takasugi, a public defender who represented Karr at a hearing on Tuesday, said earlier that Karr told her he planned to have the Boulder County public defender's office represent him in Colorado and had turned away Van Zandt and Harmon.

On Thursday, Takasugi said that now that Van Zandt and Harmon say they have been retained she must give them professional courtesy and does not question what they say.

Takasugi had planned to visit Karr on Thursday but did not because of Van Zandt's and Harmon's statement.

Van Zandt and Harmon were both in court for unrelated cases on Thursday and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The head of the Colorado state public defender's office, David Kaplan, said that as of early on Thursday afternoon, Van Zandt and Harmon had not contacted his office to say that they would be representing Karr in Colorado.

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