Just as before, law enforcement appeared overeager and bumbling. Just as before, a hyperactive press went into overdrive, eager to pronounce guilt. And just as before, a nation of voyeurs proved only too ready to play pundit.
It has been almost a decade since the murder of JonBenet Ram-sey, but it has taken less than two weeks of fevered -- and apparently pointless -- speculation to show how little things have changed.
That seemed clear on Monday when prosecutors in Boulder, Colo-rado, abruptly dropped their case against John Mark Karr -- a 41-year-old itinerant teacher who insisted he had strangled the six-year-old beauty queen at her home on Dec. 26, 1996 -- saying DNA tests failed to put him at the crime scene.
"Because no evidence has developed, other than his own repeated admissions ... the people would not be able to establish that Mr. Karr committed this crime despite his repeated insistence that he did," district attorney Mary Lacy said in court papers.
The admission by prosecutors that they had the wrong man might have seemed shocking if this had been any other case. But in the context of the Ramsey case -- an investigation beset from its earliest stages by gross misjudgments by investigators -- it struck many observers as not only expected, but also grimly fitting.
"If there's a single mistake they haven't made, I'm not sure what it is," said Philip Jenkins, a professor of history at Pennsylvania State University who has written on both child molestation and serial murder. "It fits, but it makes the existing record worse."
The decision to drop the charges against Karr completes a 12-day arc that echoed many of the themes that have characterized the case. It was made all the more ironic because Karr's arrest earlier this month came as the nation appeared almost to have forgotten the case.
Any hope of that ended on Aug. 16, when police in Thailand arrested Karr and brought him before reporters, where he professed his guilt, saying he had been with JonBenet at the time of her death.
Pressed, he would not, or could not, describe just what had happened. But there was enough about his persona -- a creepy narrative that included Karr's flight from child pornography charges in California -- to whip the media and the public into a frenzy.
"Solved!," the Daily News of New York proclaimed across its front page on the morning after Karr's arrest. Its competitor, the New York Post, described Karr as a "pasty-faced, peripatetic kiddie-porn collector."
The Associated Press and other news organizations placed teams of journalists on Karr's flight from Bangkok to the US and chronicled his dining experience: champagne, fried king prawns and roast duck.
Coverage of the case -- once again featuring photos of the little princess dressed for pageant competition, now alongside photos of a gaunt and sallow Karr -- flooded back onto cable TV.
For Clay Calvert, it offered a reminder of a 2001 interview he and a colleague had conducted with John and Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet's parents, for an article about press coverage of the case.
"One of the big things she said when we interviewed her is that there shouldn't be such a rush to judgment. She really focused on the media's scoop mentality, of getting the news first and the truth be damned," said Calvert, a professor of communications and law at Penn State. "That's the irony now -- that the media didn't go slow this time around and look what's happened."
POLAND-GERMANY RIFT: Warsaw’s response to Berlin over a NATO system that would increase the alliance’s involvement in the war came as Kyiv accused Russia of war crimes Anti-missile systems that Germany offered to send to Poland should instead go to Ukraine, the Polish government said on Thursday, a proposal that is likely a nonstarter for Berlin because it would significantly ratchet up NATO involvement in Ukraine. Poland’s surprising response to Berlin’s offer was welcomed by Ukraine, which is desperate to protect its airspace as barrages of Russian missiles have knocked out power across the country. German Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht said that use of NATO defense systems outside its territory needs to be agreed by all member states. “It is important to us that Poland can rely on allies
MONEY-MAKING SCHEME: Some students said they were misled about study or work opportunities, or were not told that they were coming to a self-proclaimed republic Foreign students are big business in northern Cyprus, a tiny, breakaway statelet only recognized by Turkey, but some warn that university recruiters are selling “dreams” in the internationally and economically isolated territory. One Nigerian student, who asked to remain anonymous, said he expected to arrive in the country whose soccer teams compete in European tournaments. Instead, when he saw the currency was the embattled Turkish lira, he realized this was “not the Cyprus I thought it was.” The Mediterranean island is divided between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and a northern statelet established after Turkey launched a 1974 invasion in
COUNTERING CHINA: The vice president said on the island of Palawan that the US supports the Philippines ‘in the face of intimidation ... in the South China Sea’ US Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday visited a Philippine island near waters claimed by Taiwan and China to show support for the longtime US ally and counter Beijing’s growing influence in the region. Harris is the highest-ranking US official ever to visit the western island of Palawan, the closest Philippine landmass to the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) in the hotly contested South China Sea. Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis. Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have overlapping claims to parts of
CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT: The prosecution had shelved sedition charges against the six in exchange for the defendants pleading guilty to ‘conspiring’ with Jimmy Lai Six former employees of a now-defunct Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper yesterday pleaded guilty to a collusion charge under the National Security Law that has silenced and jailed most opposition voices in the southern Chinese territory. The staff members of the Apple Daily were arrested last year during a crackdown on dissent after Beijing imposed the sweeping security law in response to the widespread anti-government protests in 2019. They were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. The six have been in pre-trial custody for almost a year-and-a-half. The law criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion