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Lab worker, former deputy charged with leaking Ramsey photos

Sawyer and Smith
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January 15, 1997
Web posted at: 6:55 p.m. EST

BOULDER, Colorado (CNN) -- A former sheriff's deputy and a photo lab employee were arrested on charges of leaking coroner's photographs from the investigation into the slaying of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey to a supermarket tabloid, officials announced Wednesday.

Boulder County Sheriff George Epp told a news briefing that the former deputy, Brett Sawyer, is a private investigator who worked as a Boulder County Sheriff's Department deputy from 1980 to 1981.

Lawrence Shawn Smith was a processor with Photo Craft Laboratories, the company that processes film for the coroner's office.

Epp

The photos leaked to The Globe, based in Boca Raton, Florida, were published in the latest edition. Many stores in Colorado refused to sell the issue, saying it was in bad taste.

The Globe agreed Tuesday to return the five photos and two others it had not published. Boulder County then dropped a lawsuit aimed at blocking the 1.3-million-circulation weekly from running any more pictures. The agreement permits the weekly to republish photos it already has used and allows it to run any material it obtains in the future.

Epp said investigators believe the private investigator was paid $5,500 and that he gave $200 to the film processor.

Photo Craft Laboratories said Wednesday it had fired the employee who allegedly leaked the photos, and it was shocked that one of its workers would do such a thing.

Smith, 36, was charged with theft of goods worth over $400, tampering with physical evidence, obstructing government operations and false reporting. Sawyer, 38, was charged with obstructing government operations.

"I've never seen a case where physical evidence of a crime was co-opted as it was in this case," said Epp.icon (298K/27 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Leak could harm probe

The published photos show a garrote -- a cord-wrapped stick that might have been used to strangle JonBenet -- and a rope around one of her wrists.

Police and County Coroner John Meyer said publication of the photos could damage the investigation by revealing details known only to the killer and police. Meyer also said publication could taint a jury if a suspect is arrested and a court rules the photos cannot be used as evidence.

The photos were shot at the home of John and Patricia Ramsey on December 26, the day their daughter was found dead in a basement room. JonBenet, a former Little Miss Colorado, died of strangulation.

Alex Hunter

Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to discuss any details of the three-week-old murder probe.

"I want to make it clear that there's only one ball in the air for me, and that's little JonBenet," said Hunter.icon (354K/32 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Police have been extremely tight-lipped on virtually all aspects of the case, saying they do not want to disclose details that only the killer or killers would know.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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