Confessed JonBenet Ramsey Killer Given Royal Treatment

John Mark Karr, who is continually referred to as “JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect” despite having voluntarily confessed to the crime, was treated like a king on his flight home from Thailand. Legal experts have mixed reviews.

Authorities probably had a very good reason for allowing JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr to live it up on the 15-hour flight to the United States, legal experts say — they wanted him to talk. Denver attorney Larry Pozner, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the royal treatment during Sunday’s journey — king prawns, champagne, French wine — was “a brilliant move.” “What the cops want most is this guy to talk. They say he is not under arrest. Then they do not put him in handcuffs on the plane. And they say he is over the age of 21, free to drink,” Pozner said. “He is therefore free to talk.” If Karr says something incriminating that is challenged in court, Pozner said, the investigator who was sitting next to him simply says he was never in my custody. “There is always a reason when the unusual happens,” Pozner said. “He is in nobody’s custody. He is free to leave if he can find a way at 38,000 feet

Karr left Bangkok on a Thai Airways International flight at about 9 a.m. EDT for the long flight to Los Angeles. The 41-year-old teacher sat in a business class window seat next to Mark Spray, an investigator with the Boulder County District Attorney’s office. Before takeoff, he sipped champagne. During dinner, Karr had pate, salad with walnut dressing and fried king prawn with steamed rice and broccoli. Karr had a beer before a glass of French chardonnay with the main course.

This is a variation of a classic interrogation technique. Still, others have their doubts.

Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor familiar with the case, said was surprised that authorities would allow Karr to sit on the plane sipping champagne and drinking beer. “It could be that if he got a little inebriated he would make further statements that could include or exclude him from this case,” Silverman said.

Bob Grant, a former Adams County district attorney who was involved in the Ramsey investigation, disagreed. “It seems odd to me,” he said. “It is very strange. Whoever is in control of him ought to make sure he isn’t doing things like drinking champagne.”

I don’t know the legal technicalities here, let alone whether the plan (if that was the plan) worked. Still, I can’t believe a judge would consider that Karr was not under arrest in these circumstances. Even in an ordinary traffic stop for a non-criminal ordinance infraction, people who reasonably feel they are not free to leave are considered to be in custody.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jody says:

    Could be that they think Karr may be making it up. In which case, anything he tells them still probably wouldn’t be usable in court, but could be useful enough to drop the case.

  2. Why he is flying business class is a reasonable question. Is it a perk for the agents at taxpayer expense, the only reasonable seats available, a complimentary upgrade by the airline for whatever reason, a dastardly plan by the government to get the suspect drunk on the glass of cheap champagne they serve in a plastic cup prior to take off? I don’t know.

    But assuming that there is a reasonable explanation why they are there, then the question comes up as to do they have a right to stop him from taking the alcohol available as part of the price of the seat in business class. Since he is innocent until proved guilty, would the government even have the right to stop him. I can understand why a defense attorney wouldn’t want him to do it. I could understand why an innocent man who is afraid that a slurred statement could be taken the wrong way would not want to do it. But wise to refrain does not make it a government duty or right to force him to restrain.

    Now given all the rest of the hoopla as to government agents actions, I would suggest that the government agents involved film the entire mind numbing 12+ hour flight. Just so they can either recognize the agents did violate the rights by trying to induce a confession by alcohol (and thus discipline the agents, isolate the information and hope to preserve the rest of the case) or show that nothing happened.

    If this was a complimentary upgrade, they should have moved him to first class. The difference to business class is not that much, there are almost always empty places in the first class and they could reap a huge profit on the reporters who wanted to fly along.

  3. Wayne says:

    It sounds like it was technically easier to export him for visa violation then to extradite him. Therefore he was not arrested until he landed on U.S. soil. Therefore it would have been a violation of Karr rights to prevent him from drinking until he was taken into custody.

    If the agents bought or try to force the alcohol on Karr then anything he said could be thrown out. However if Karr bought or drank the alcohol on his own accord then it would not.

  4. lily says:

    What, no waterboarding? No rendition to a country that can torture a confession out of him?