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Arrest of American Teacher in Bangkok, For JonBenet Ramsey Murder, Raises Many, Many Questions; John Mark Karr's Chilling Comments at Thai press conference: I loved JonBenet

Aired August 17, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR, PAULA ZAHN NOW: A very disturbing questions about JonBenet Ramsey's self-proclaimed killer. Our in- depth coverage starts with the very latest developments. The suspect, John Mark Karr, briefly appeared at a bizarre news conference this morning, in Thailand. He told reporters he loved JonBenet Ramsey. And that he was with her when she died.
Listen to this:


JOHN MARK KARR, MURDER SUSPECT: Her death was an accident.


So, we're going to hear more of John Karr's own words in just a minute.

Meanwhile, Colorado authorities called their own news conference today, but they were incredibly cautious. The DA wouldn't even give any details about the investigation, nor what they might potentially charge Karr with, saying only that Karr started teaching on Tuesday, in Bangkok, that he was arrested on Wednesday, apparently out of concern for his students' safety.

But some parts of Karr's story don't add up tonight. His ex-wife says he was with her in Alabama when JonBenet Ramsey was killed in Colorado, on the day after Christmas in 1996. So tonight we're focusing this hour on these troubling questions.

Who is John Karr? Did he kill JonBenet? Why did he end up in Thailand? And should all teachers be screened more carefully all over the country? To help answer some of those questions we're bringing in live reports from Colorado, Thailand, and California where Karr's ex- wife now lives.

First off we're going straight to the heart of the investigation, that is in Boulder, Colorado, where we find Ted Rowlands, who has been covering the day's developments -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it is still unclear whether this traveling school teacher is the answer to a 10-year mystery.


ROWLANDS (voice over): Since she took office nearly four years ago Boulder, Colorado District Attorney Mary Lacy made this case a top priority.

MARY LACY, BOULDER CO., DISTRICT ATTORNEY: As you are now aware, John Mark Karr, 41 years old, was arrested for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

ROWLANDS: But Lacy didn't say exactly why investigators think John Karr, a traveling school teacher, is the person who killed six- year-old JonBenet Ramsey in December of 1996.

LACY: I am not commenting on the particular nature of this investigation or arrest.

ROWLANDS: Investigators were led to Karr a few months ago by a journalism professor, Michael Tracey, who says he exchanged hundreds of e-mails with Karr over a four-year period. Without giving details, Tracy says something happened in May of this year which prompted him to go to authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a single thing that prompted you to say, I've got to go to the cops now.

PROF. MICHAEL TRACEY, UNIV. OF COLORADO: There was, but I'm not going to say what it is. There was one particular thing, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it a detail that hadn't been reported?

TRACEY: No, no.


TRACEY: No, I'm not going to comment on that. It was one particular thing that made me decide I had to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ROWLANDS: The investigation continued until this week when the authorities decided it was time to move in on John Mark Karr in Bangkok, Thailand. After his arrest Karr told reporters he was with JonBenet Ramsey when she died.

KARR: I loved JonBenet, and she died accidentally.

ROWLANDS: Karr's bizarre public statements have left a lot of unanswered questions.

KARR: No comment on that.

ROWLANDS: One of his relatives claims Karr wasn't even in Boulder, Colorado at the time of the murder. Karr says he drugged JonBenet Ramsey, but according to the autopsy report, there were no drugs in her system.

What's also unclear is how, or even if, Karr knew the Ramseys? How he got in and out of their house without leaving any evidence? And if he did actually kill the six-year-old girl, why would he take the time to write out a $118,000 ransom note, on stationery from the house?

While the district attorney wouldn't comment on the case, she did seem to indicate that investigators may have been forced to arrest Karr before they wanted to, despite the unanswered questions.

LACY: There are circumstances that can exist in any case which mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete.


ZAHN: And obviously, Ted, to repeat, to complete this investigation, this DA is going to need DNA evidence linking him to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey if she ever hopes to get a conviction, if it ever goes that far. What are authorities telling you about that possibility?

ROWLANDS: Well, there have been some reports that DNA was taken, but clearly the authorities are not talking about it at all. But that's the $1 million question, when and if DNA is taken, will it match? And that will be the sealer on this deal, if you will.

If the DNA matches, obviously, they have potentially their man. If it doesn't, it brings up all of these other questions. And it's anybody's guess in terms of a conviction or where this would go from there.

ZAHN: We're going to address all those legal issues later on in the show. Ted Rowlands, thanks so much.

Now, tonight, John Karr is in lockup in Bangkok waiting to be sent back to the U.S. And earlier today it was truly a strange scene as Thai officials put him on display for a media circus. Let's get the latest now from Stan Grant who joins us from Bangkok.


STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Paula, we're hearing a lot about John Mark Karr. Well, here is the story from his mouth, and it's certainly an eerie tale to tell.


GRANT (voice over): At the center of a chaotic media pack, flanked by police and security officials John Mark Karr looked bewildered. And, then, amid a chorus of frantic, yelled questions he made this eerie statement.

KARR: I loved JonBenet, and she died accidentally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you an innocent man?


GRANT: After that, in a low voice, Karr responded to other questions about the night JonBenet died.


KARR: Her death was an accident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you were in the basement?

KARR: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us about your connection to the Ramsey family?

KARR: Oh, no comment on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you get into the basement to play with her?

KARR: No comment on that.

GRANT: Officials say Karr had been tracked for the past two months, and finally arrested in the apartment in Bangkok where he lived alone.

ANN HURST, U.S. IMMIGRATION & CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: He has been charged by the state of California -- I'm sorry, Colorado -- for first degree murder after deliberation, first degree murder, felony murder, first degree kidnapping, second degree kidnapping, and sexual assault on a child.

GRANT: But the arrest warrant for Karr has been sealed and the district attorney in Colorado says no charges have actually been filed yet. The Thai police described Karr as, quote, "nervous".

They say Karr told them the same thing he repeated to reporters, that JonBenet's killing was not intended. A distinction measured in murder cases, by degrees.

GEN. SUWAT THAMRONGSRISAKUL, CHIEF OF THAI IMMIGRATION POLICE: Second degree, it's not first degree, because not intentionally.

GRANT: Why Bangkok? Why now? Karr had just started work as a teacher here. Two law enforcement sources told CNN that Karr was under investigation by Thai police for an unrelated sex crime. That led authorities to his door.


ZAHN: And, Stan, as we were watching this video come through the system today, we were all shocked. A potential suspect would never have been put in that situation, on his own, without an attorney standing by. Were you surprised to see Thai officials parade him around like that?

GRANT: Actually, Paula, the Thai official that we saw in the story there, the police chief, was saying that at one point Karr himself wanted to front the media at that news conference, to sit alongside the police, but he became nervous. And didn't go through you with it, which is why they paraded him in front of the media. So that accounts for that.

The question now is where does it go to from here? The Thai officials have revoked Karr's visa, they will eject him from the country as being, quote, "an unreasonable person," a person they don't want in the country. He'll be handed over then to U.S. authorities, who of course have a warrant for his arrest. That could be some days, though, to come -- Paula.

ZAHN: Stan, before I let you go, have you learned any more details about his life there in Thailand?

GRANT: I've tried to piece this together, and obviously this will come out over the coming days. What we do know, is looking back over the past couple of months, he paid a few visits to Thailand, perhaps, in the past few years. And then coming to Thailand from Malaysia, just a couple of months ago, in June, and had been looking for work here as a teacher.

He'd only been in that job for a matter of days and was living alone in his apartment when he was seized. More details will come to light in the coming days as we get to talk to some people who, perhaps, knew Karr.

ZAHN: Stan Grant, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Now, I'm going to turn to a criminal defense attorney who has been following this case very closely for 10 years now, Jeralyn Merritt joins me now from Denver.

You've covered a lot of weird cases along the way, you've heard this confession that this alleged murderer has made here. Do you think he killed JonBenet Ramsey?

JERALYN MERRITT, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Paula, I have no idea. I was more confident in the arrest this morning than I am right now. I think that has less to do with him than it does with the district attorney's press conference.

But to me, I just -- you know, we want justice for JonBenet, but if this is not the right person, I really fear for Boulder ever getting another credible arrest out of this case or ever successfully prosecuting it. Hopefully --

ZAHN: So, Jeralyn, what was it you heard or didn't hear in this news conference that made you getting to be a little more nervous about this arrest?

MERRITT: The way she kept saying we arrested him before the investigation was complete, and then when she said we arrested him for public safety. You can arrest -- if you want to get somebody off the streets, you don't do it by serving a first degree murder warrant on them for a different crime.

And so she either has to have probable cause that he committed this murder, to get an arrest warrant for him, or she shouldn't be out there arresting him. And when she said she did it for public safety before the investigation is complete, I started getting nervous.

Whereas this morning I was much more confident that perhaps she had gotten handwriting exemplars from this guy, you know, from his original documents he had written, from his -- and got them from his wife or from Bangkok, had the handwriting examiners compare it to the ransom note and maybe got a positive indication.

I thought maybe there had been some positive proof that he had been in Colorado on that day -- on the day JonBenet died. And, you know, now we have no indication she has any of that. So --

ZAHN: Obviously, she never would have moved forward with this arrest unless she had something. And we're talking about probable cause. What is one potential thing she might have?

MERRITT: Well, you know, it should be more than the e-mails written to Professor Tracey. And it should be more than letters written to Patsy Ramsey. And that's all we've heard about today, as being evidence is that Tracey turned over e-mails, one of them he found particularly distressing. And we've heard that he wrote to Patsy Ramsey. You know -- and we heard he confessed. Those are not enough to charge someone with first degree murder.

ZAHN: You said something really interesting, off the top, when you said you had more confidence in the arrest -- and you were less concerned with his behavior, perhaps than how the district attorney's office acted today during this news conference.

But a lot of people are posing the question tonight, you know, is this guy making this confession up for attention?

MERRITT: Well, he certainly could be. You know, false confessions happen a lot more than the public understands. There's a lot of reasons people will confess to crimes that they didn't commit. But I don't believe in judging him by his looks, or how he looked in court. I don't even think he was wearing his own clothes, his pants were way too big and hiked up too high.

So I'm trying not to judge anything by his conduct and try and look at what evidence might prompt a district attorney to get the Justice Department involved, the FBI involved, go to another country, issue an -- execute an arrest warrant and bring someone home in such a high profile case. And I just hope she did it with evidence because otherwise I just fear it's going to be like the little boy who cried wolf.

ZAHN: I guess we'll know in the days to come as that evidence, if there is any, begins to surface.

Jeralyn Merritt, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.


ZAHN: Coming up more of our top story coverage including a closer look at the man at the center of the Ramsey case tonight. Just who is John Karr? His suspicious e-mails and his startling public confession make him a prime suspect. So, why do some of his relatives think it can't be true?

Plus trusting teachers. John Karr's child porn arrest didn't stop him from teaching kids. How can you be sure your child is safe? All that and more just ahead.


ZAHN: Our top story coverage turns now to what we're learning tonight about the past of John Mark Karr, the suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey killing.

Karr is 41 years old, a teacher, and a divorced father of three. He's been teaching off and on for at least the last 10 years. And in 2000 and 2001 Karr lived and taught in Petaluma, California, and was arrested there on child porn charges. Dan Simon joins me from Petaluma where he has been digging into Karr's background.

Curious what you found out, Dan?


When John Karr left the country he also left behind a sordid past here in Northern California. He was in the middle of an ongoing criminal court case; he was also going through a messy divorce. And we're learning about it through literally hundreds of pages of court documents.


SIMON (voice over): Controlling and child obsessed, just a few of the accusations leveled at John Karr by his former wife, a woman he married 17 years ago when she was 16, and he was 24.

CNN obtained these court documents from their 2001 divorce. In a sworn declaration Karr's wife, Laura, he was booted from a substitute teaching job in the late 90s. The reason, she claims one school told him, quote, "He has a tendency to be too affectionate with children. That didn't stop Karr from getting another substitute teaching job a few years later, here in Northern California.

SIMON (on camera): So, everything checked out on this guy?


SIMON: Charles Wong was the head of one of the school districts where Karr occasionally filled in for absent teachers, and says he saw no reason to raise a red flag.

WONG: No one goes into a classroom, comes on a campus, until they've been cleared on both counts, on the professional qualification credentialing side, background, criminal check, fingerprint, that side has to be cleared.

SIMON: This young Alabama woman, a former girl scout, remembers him when he was her neighbor.

ERIKA SCHOLZ, FORMER NEIGHBOR: He never striked (sic) me as anything - like I wasn't comfortable. He's never, of course, invited me into his house for like coffee or tea or anything, but he was just a great guy.

SIMON: Karr's teaching days in California ended in 2001 when he got arrested for possessing child pornography. Sheriff's deputies busted him for having pictures of children engaging in sexual conduct on his computer.

Karr pleaded not guilty and was freed on bail, but according to California authorities, he skipped town and never stood trial. He may have fled the country, but Karr's ex-wife obtained a restraining order against him, that prevented him from getting within a hundred feet of her and their three sons.

Even so Karr's ex may be able to provide an alibi. She told a San Francisco television station that they were together in Alabama during the Christmas holidays in 1996, when JonBenet was murdered.

MIKE RAINES, ATTORNEY FOR LARA KARR: She sincerely believes that there was no Christmas any time between approximately 1989, when they were married and the year 2000, when her husband was not with her and her family at Christmastime. She has no recollection of him ever being away.

SIMON: The woman's attorney told reporters that Colorado investigators have yet to speak with her, and she wants to make herself available to them.


ZAHN: Obviously, this story, I'm sure, is consumed by folks living in Petaluma. What has been their reaction to this development today?

SIMON: Well, they're obviously watching it with a lot of interest. And Paula, they're horrified by the notion that this man may have been a murderer and actually teaching in classrooms. We talked to the superintendent of that school district, and he just can't believe the idea that he would employ someone who was actually allegedly involved in this crime.

And Paula, one thing I might add, that gentleman you saw there at the end of the piece, that's Mike Raines. Some people may know him. He's actually Barry Bonds' attorney who was an expert in dealing with the media. And that's why this woman hired him.

He has instructed her to go back and look at -- dig through the family photo albums and look back at the year 1996 to see if there were any holiday parties that they were at, basically, which might corroborate her story. Because she's saying they were together in 1996, in Alabama, during the holidays. They want to go talk to the Boulder authorities, no schedule has been set for that. But they're in constant contact with them as of right now, Paula. Back to you. ZAHN: Yet another chunk of the story that makes very little sense here tonight. Dan Simon, thank you so much.

We're going to ask some other guests as well, if they can figure out what this all means. More top coverage in just a moment, but let's first go to Melissa Long at our Pipeline Studio in Atlanta for our count down of the top 10 stories on CNN.Com -- Melissa?

MELISSA LONG, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hello, Paula. More than 19 million people logged on to our web site today,

A lot of them wanted to know more about a accused drug lord, Francisco Ariano Felix (ph). His arraignment in San Diego ranks No. 10 on the list tonight. Felix was captured by the Coast Guard yesterday aboard a boat off Mexico.

A story about a big set back for the White House coming in at No. 9. A federal judge rules that the National Security Agency cannot continue to monitor Americans' phone calls and e-mails without warrants. The administration has appealed this ruling.

And a story about airline security in at No. 8 tonight. About 100 people were evacuated today from an airport in Huntington, West Virginia. Why? Because of some items in a woman's carry on bag. They tested positive for explosives. The FBI is questioning that woman -- Paula.

Melissa, thanks so much.

We're going to check back with you in just a little bit. And meanwhile our in-depth coverage of today's top story continues with some high tech science. Coming up next will DNA testing show whether John Mark Karr is telling the truth or just telling a story for a whole lot of attention.

And at his news conference today Karr was asked if he's innocent, he said, no. So does that mean he's guilty? I'll ask a top story panel of legal experts after this.


ZAHN: Our top story coverage focuses on the JonBenet Ramsey case and right now the role that DNA evidence will play in the case against suspect John Mark Karr. DNA, as you might remember, was found under the victim's fingernails and inside her panties, but investigators have never been able to match it to anyone, so the question is will it match John Mark Karr? Joining me now DNA expert, Doctor Larry Kobilinsky, a forensic scientist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Always good to see you.


ZAHN: Thank you. So, a lot of people are wondering tonight why the DA would even go after an arrest, and get federal officials involved, and international officials involved if there's no DNA linkage here?

KOBLINSKY: I too, am somewhat surprised. I think the arrest may have been premature. Quite frankly, I think, before you arrest somebody you have to have some information, that will tell you an indictment is imminent. In other words, they didn't have any DNA work, and that would have been very substantial, because it would have directly linked Mr. Karr to the victim. And that simply has not happened.

Quite frankly --

ZAHN: So, you can't -- no one can jump to this conclusion even if he, on video tape today, made it quite clear, he says, that he's not an innocent man.

KOBILINSKY: Well, people in the criminal justice system are very well acquainted with people that give false confessions. There must be something of physical evidence, something at the crime scene that corroborates his confession.

Short of that, or short of some special knowledge that he may have, that would tell law enforcement he's the man, short of that, I just don't see how you can make a case.

ZAHN: But what we're learning from him contradicts so much of what we've learned from the autopsy. Does this story make any sense to you?

KOBILINSKY: There's a lot of contradictory information there. For example, the autopsy report never indicated the presence of semen, or that there was sexual intercourse. There was an abrasion in the vaginal vault, there was some congestion, but there was no indication of sexual intercourse. Furthermore there were no signs of any drugs in her body. But I think what's most telling --

ZAHN: Which -- which he apparently, according to a law enforcement official he told, that drugs had been involved.

KOBILINSKY: That's correct. But he also said her death was an accident. I don't see how you can fracture somebody's skull, with the force that's required, that kind of break, that kind of fracture of her skull, that required intense force. And, quite frankly, that's no accident.

ZAHN: So, what do you think we're really looking at here tonight?

KOBILINSKY: It could very well be that we have somebody that relishes being in the limelight. There's global coverage, he knows an awful lot about the case, he's obviously obsessed with the case, knows a lot about JonBenet Ramsey; has even written letters to Patsy.

So I think we need something that clearly links him to the crime scene or to the victim. And, again, short of that, there will not be any charges that will stick in this case.

ZAHN: Which might be why we heard so little from the DA today. I don't know.


ZAHN: We're all waiting for more of these details.

Doctor Kobilinsky, thank you for your time.


ZAHN: More of our top story coverage in just a moment. First, though, let's continue our countdown with Melissa.

Melissa Long, take it away.

LONG: OK. We'll do. Paula, entertainment news coming in at No. 6, actor Bill Murray says he's extending his current break from the big screen. He says, and I quote, I work really hard when I work, but I try to avoid work." And he says he'd rather actually direct than act. Murray's last role was in the film "Broken Flowers", last year.

No. 6, an Ohio judge has decide that two high school football players can compete this fall before serving 60-day jail sentences. The two pleaded no contest to causing a car crash in which two other teens were seriously hurt.

And No. 5, entertainment news, once again, Jennifer Lopez and her ex-husband, Oh Hani Noahasay (ph), they're trying to avoid going to court over his tell-all book about their marriage, which lasted 11 months. They're hoping to settle the issues out of court through arbitration. Paula.

ZAHN: That would save them both a lot of trouble, a lot of scrutiny, too. Melissa, thanks. We'll check back with you in a little bit.

Now one of the most bizarre aspects of our top story tonight is the suspect's news conference over in Thailand. Was John Mark Karr telling the truth? I'll ask a top story panel of legal experts next.



MARC KLAAS, KLAASKIDSFOUNDATION.ORG: There's nothing that places him in that house that is substantive thus far. As I understand it he's even talked about having given her drugs and raped her. There's no indication that she was raped and there's no indication that there were drugs. I'm very skeptical that this guy did it and if this guy didn't do it then I think that puts the suspicion right back where it's been for the last decade.

QUESTION: On the parents?

KLAAS: Yes, sir.


ZAHN: A very provocative statement tonight from Marc Klaas, who became an advocate for missing children after the murder of his own daughter Polly back in 1993. He is, of course, talking about our top story tonight, the arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey killing. Now, suspect John Mark Karr is in custody tonight in Thailand and in front of TV cameras Karr claimed to have been present for the 6-year-old girl's death. He said she died accidentally, yet he also said he's not innocent.

The D.A. in Colorado will say virtually nothing, not even what charges Karr will eventually face, and everybody wants to know tonight whether Karr's DNA will match evidence from the killing.

Lots to take up with our top story legal panel tonight, defense attorney Jack Furlong, who specializes in sexual deviancy cases. Criminologist Casey Jordan, give you a new title tonight and Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom. Glad to have our trio with us tonight. So first off, Lisa, what did the news conference reveal to you today? We heard nothing?

LISA BLOOM, ANCHOR, COURT TV: We watched it so closely. No, I think we can read between the lines and what the D.A. is saying is this, we don't really have that much evidence yet. This man is a public safety threat. There were outstanding child porn charges against him.

ZAHN: That's why you don't think the arrest was premature?

BLOOM: The day before yesterday he started teaching second graders in Thailand. We've got to get him off the street. He has confessed to this crime. Now maybe there's physical evidence that will link him, maybe there isn't. But what we do have is probable cause. Her job is to get people who are a threat to public safety off the street. That's what she did. If the evidence isn't there, there won't be a trial, he'll be released.

ZAHN: But Casey, you think his confession raises a lot more questions.

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Absolutely, more questions that it answers. He never said he murdered her. He says he was there when she died. He says she died accidentally. And when he's asked if he's innocent, he says no, but innocent of what. He has a bizarre affect about him. He is loving all of the media attention. He is mugging for the camera, and he is giving information which does not match the forensic evidence of this case and things that are known to the police.

ZAHN: What else did you pick up about his demeanor as you watched that news conference over and over again?

JORDAN: I would just say he has a, you know arm chair forensic psychologist, he has a grandiosity complex. He really is narcissistic. He loves that people pay attention to him. He's adjusting his collar. He's extremely aware of his presence and how he's holding himself, and he hesitates before he answers questions because he's formulating the answers in his mind.

BLOOM: But Paula, he also sounds just like a pedophile, just like a predator, because he's a lover not a fighter. It happened accidentally. I loved her. That's the way sexual predators talk. It's as though she was his little girlfriend and something just went wrong and it's not really his fault.

ZAHN: So Jack, let's talk for a moment about what you think the D.A. is up against as she pursues this case. You think she's going to have to confront all the dreaded questions that had to be confronted ten years ago about the way this investigation was initially conducted? It had a lot of flaws.

JACK FURLONG, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely, no question about it. In addition to the flaws in the investigation there was the contamination of the crime scene at the outset. For everybody's recollection, I'm sure Lisa and Casey know this, this was originally a kidnapping case, as reported. So for 12 hours family and police tromped all over the house and all over the scene. Dr. Lee said, at the time, this is going to be an impossible one to reconstruct.

Once they did identify it as a homicide scene there was very little in the way of forensic evidence outside of the body itself, and that forensic evidence, as everybody's been talking about for the last half hour, maybe the last two days, was the DNA, and we should stress that DNA that was found in her underwear, JonBenet's underwear, and under her fingernails, was excluded from sourcing with the parents or the siblings.

No family member matched up to that DNA, and what we have now is, in the ensuing ten years, and we can all talk about this from experience, there's been a dramatic increase in the DNA database nationwide, in fact worldwide. So, the first thing they did when they got him in Bangkok, was to put a swab in his mouth, take his DNA and run that back to the states for testing. And until they get the results of those tests, I doubt seriously the D.A. is going to say anything more.

ZAHN: Now the D.A. has to confront some other inconsistencies in his story. He claimed he drugged JonBenet Ramsey. There is no evidence of that in the autopsy. So how do you explain that away?

BLOOM: That's right. The toxicology says no drugs, and he says he had sex with her and there's no evidence that she had sexual relations with an adult man, the kind of injuries and bruising that that would cause. So, he does clearly have some inconsistencies in his statement. What does he mean by drugs, what does he mean by sex, I suppose they could explore that, but Jack's right, it's all going to come down to the DNA.

ZAHN: And you agree with that?

JORDAN: If the DNA matches, I'm a convert, but until then there are things, he did a research paper on this case, and yet he should know by reading the publicly available autopsy report that what he's saying doesn't match.

ZAHN: Jack, you've got the last word and a brief one at that.

FURLONG: OK, Larry Schiller wrote the book, "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town." This kid read it over and over and over. He's a obsessive compulsive nut job. When the case clears, he's in the clear.

ZAHN: And boy can you take a cue. Jack Furlong, thank you. Casey Jordan, Lisa Bloom, glad to have all three of you with us tonight. We're going to get more on our top story in just a moment, but first let's go back to Melissa Long, who has the rest of our countdown, Melissa.

LONG: And at number four tonight, Paula, a story likely to anger animal rights activists. Country music's Troy Gentry is accused of buying and then killing a time black bear. It happened in Minnesota two years ago and the killing was videotaped. If convicted, Gentry faces up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

And number three, the woman accused of causing a disturbance on a trans-Atlantic flight yesterday, she will remain in jail until a hearing next week. Her attorney says Katherine Mayo has, and I quote now, serious mental health problems. It was United flight 923, on its way from London on route to Washington when it was diverted to Boston. I was reading the accounts of the passenger's on board. It sounds like it was very frenzied. One passenger looked out the window and saw two F-15s guiding that plane in.

ZAHN: That would be pretty scary. Not a place I'd want to be. Melissa, thanks so much. See you in a couple minutes.

One of the most disturbing revelations in the arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey killing is that the suspect is a school teacher and was once arrested on child porn charges. Coming up in our top story coverage, is it time for all teachers to be screened more carefully? You're going to be shocked when you hear some statistics tonight.

But coming up next, insights from a one-time neighbor who knew the suspect in California.


ZAHN: We continue our top story coverage of what we're learning tonight about the suspect in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey.

John Mark Karr is under arrest in Thailand waiting to be sent back to the U.S. to face charges in Colorado. Karr has been on the run from the law for five years now after being charged in Petaluma, California, with having child pornography in his home.

Now Karr was married at that time, he had three children, he has since gotten divorced. And joining me now from Petaluma, a former neighbor of John Karr's, Sherry Ballestrasse who joins me with her daughter, Jesse. Great to have both of you with us tonight.

So Sherry, it is interesting what his ex-wife is saying, that he lost a substitute school teaching job because he had a tendency to be too affectionate with children. Did you ever see him be that way in your neighborhood with any of the children?


ZAHN: Nothing inappropriate?

BALLESTRASSE: No. They just seemed like the perfect neighbors. My son played with the three boys, and Laura was just as nice as could be. They seemed like the model people. I was very shocked one day when I drove home and I saw the police there with envelopes of evidence from the pornography. And after that he had -- he was just taken away and never mentioned again really.

ZAHN: So no one in the neighborhood had any contact with him after that point?

BALLESTRASSE: Not that I know of, no.

ZAHN: And you said Laura was a nice woman. She has also said in some papers that came about as a result of her divorce that he seemed to have an obsession with children. I know you said you didn't see him do anything inappropriate with the neighborhood kids, but did he seem unusually fixated on kids?

BALLESTRASSE: Not really. But I worried when I had seen the police and heard what had had happened with the pornography, because my daughter at the time, she's ten now, so she was five, and that would have been the exact age that he would have been interested in. And so I was very worried about that.

And I just never mentioned it because they were such a nice family and the boys were always polite, never had a problem with them at all. And I just -- she was a single mother, that just did the best she could, and it's just a very sad situation.

ZAHN: And once you said he was arrested, he more or less disappeared, did you ever ask Laura about him and where he had gone and what he was up to?

BALLESTRASSE: From what I understood, she didn't want the boys to really know what had had happened, so no one ever mentioned anything. It was just like he was -- I thought he was in prison, that's what we all thought. It was kind of a thing that the neighbors just never said anything about, because they didn't want to embarrass these sweet little boys.

ZAHN: I know you have an awful lot to absorb with this arrest. Sherry Ballestrasse, we appreciate your joining us. And appreciate your daughter coming by, I know we interrupted a mother/daughter event tonight, so we appreciate both of your family. Really, nice to have you.

Now we're going to take a quick break for a Biz Break.


"LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes. We're going to go straight back to Ted Rowlands who is filling in tonight. Ted joins us from Boulder -- or you're in Denver tonight, right Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, we're in Boulder, Paula, actually in front of the Ramsey's old house here where the murder took place. And at the top of the hour we're going to continue our discussion on John Karr, and we're going to talk to two of Patsy Ramsey's sisters about what she knew before she died. Of course, she died tragically a few months ago after her battle with cancer. We're also going to talk to that AP reporter who talked to Karr in Bangkok, Thailand. That, and much more coming up at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE."

ZAHN: All right, Ted, thanks so much. See you at 9:00. Right now, let's go back to Melissa Long for our Countdown -- Melissa.


ZAHN: Now, the revelation that John Mark Karr was once arrested for child porn is raising a lot of questions about whether all schools need to do a better job of checking up on teachers' backgrounds. We're going to take a startling look at how little schools know about the teachers they hire and we as parents know about the teachers we entrust our kids to.


ZAHN: Well, our top story coverage turns to the screening of teachers. John Mark Karr, the suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey killing was fired from his teaching job in Alabama because, according to his ex-wife, parents said he was just too affectionate with children. In fact, some of them said he was obsessed with children.

Teachers fired for sexual misconduct in one state often find work in another. And a database that states can share isn't in full operation yet. And screening varies from state to state. Susan Candiotti has more.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before Rafael Serrano can be a substitute teacher in Miami.

RAFAEL SERRANO: I just hadn't never given much thought.

CANDIOTTI: He learns this lesson. No fingerprints, no criminal background check, no job. His prints will be cross checked with databases in all 50 states, 10 percent of all teacher job candidates come back with positive hits.

SERRANO: Especially in my case, I'm going to be working with young children, I think it's very important that they do a background check. I don't feel in any way violated in any way.

CANDIOTTI: No system is fool proof. For example, in Miami, once teachers pass, there is no required follow-up unless they leave and want their job back.

JOHN SCHUSTER, MIAMI-DADE SCHOOL DISTRICT: People must self- report any crime that they are accused of, so that if someone after employment is actually involved in a crime, they must report it to their supervisor or they risk losing their job.

CANDIOTTI: Despite all the attention on child predators, there's no single way school districts check teacher's backgrounds. Thirty- nine states require or authorize state and FBI background checks of teachers including fingerprinting. Nine states provide for state background checks. However Indiana, Massachusetts and Tennessee have no policy on fingerprinting, according to a national certification group.

President Bush recently signed the Adam Walsh Act allowing fingerprint checks of national crime databases, but only if individual state education agencies ask for it.

It's a crime not to make sure that our kids are safe, and for these school districts, for these states that aren't doing it, they should be accountable for allowing this to happen without doing background checks. It's unacceptable.

CANDIOTTI: One study done for the U.S. Department of Education says nearly one of every ten students reports some form of sexual misconduct by teachers, administrators, or coaches during their high school years. But that misconduct doesn't necessarily show up in a database.

CHAROL SHAKESHAFT, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY: The problem that most teachers have never been charged or convicted of sexual based crimes so that if you did a background check on them, you wouldn't necessarily turn anybody up.

CANDIOTTI: Some schools have gone beyond checking teachers. Example: Florida's Jessica Lunsford Act, named after a little girl kidnapped, raped, and killed by a sex predator.

(on camera): The law requires criminal background checks of anyone who works at schools, even those who don't come in close contact with children including construction workers and those who restock vending machines.

(voice-over): One more way to make schools safer from those looking for any opportunity to get closer to children and do them harm.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


ZAHN: And now we're going to switch gears quite a bit right now. Imagine going from a career enforcing the law to one inciting laughter on stage. Valerie Morris met a man who's done just that for tonight's "Life After Work."


VALERIE MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventy-one- year-old Murray Robitaille is making retirement a second act in life.

MURRAY ROBITAILLE, ACTOR: Today's a different day. Today is our first performance.

MORRIS: After a career as a deputy sheriff and crime scene investigator, his new passion is running a theater group called Play With Your Food Productions.

ROBITAILLE: We're very selective in the work that we present, and we're very selective in the actors that we use. We have found a little niche that we is stick with. And it's basically, it's farcical comedy.

MORRIS: Three years ago, Murray and his wife Laura, started the dinner theater at a restaurant in Southern California. They've been successful enough to put on four plays per season. After paying for royalties, sets and actors, the Robitailles bring home about $2500 a show.

ROBITAILLE: This is just a love. If we didn't make a cent at it, and we're not in it to make a cent at it, this is something we do because we love theater.

MORRIS: Murray usually acts, but now makes his directorial debut in a play called "Funny Valentines."

ROBITAILLE: All of you, you've been awesome. So go out tonight and...


ROBITAILLE: Live up to it. And break a leg.

I think it's a totally different thing to see a group of people take all of those words and under your direction bring it to life.

MORRIS: Valerie Morris, CNN.


ZAHN: Good for him. We're going to be right back.


ZAHN: And that's it for tonight. Thanks for joining us. Good night.


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