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  Richard Lavinthal preparing for a major case news conference at the US Attorney's Office.

Public Relations & Media Relations
by Richard Lavinthal

     


AP Worldwide: JonBenet Ramsey Murder
And The Investigation of John Mark Karr


September 4, 2006

This Associated Press report was distributed September 3rd around the globe to the wire services' domestic and international media members, appearing in hundreds of newspapers and Web sites.

The day after legal PR expert Richard Lavinthal's OpEd appeared in
The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press in Denver called.

In her August 31st "exculpatory" news conference, Prosecutor Mary Lacy stated that all the physical evidence in the Ramsey case was known by the public, a stunning admission that should never have been blurted out. Now, without "holdback," if DNA identification fails how can a suspect ever be identified?

This was yet another example of worst-practice legal media relations by a prosecutor. The news conference Ms. Lacy called in an attempt to defend her actions was foolish and further evidence that our 24/7 news cycle "drove the Karr." If she had to say something about evidence she should have stated, "We're not discussing additional evidence we may have." Was she dissembling to lull a future suspect into a false sense of security? I doubt it.

Interesting Sidebar: William Fleisher, a former FBI and U.S. Customs Service Special Agent, internationally known polygraph expert and principal of Keystone Intelligence Network is also quoted in this article. Fleisher heads the Vidocq Society in Philadelphia, a private group which investigates unsolved homicides and disappearances.

Richard Lavinthal spent 10 years as the pro bono Director of Communications and spokesman for the Vidocq Society.

Read Lavinthal's AP quote (italicized) or scroll down to read the complete article as it appeared in the International Herald Tribune.


With Karr ruled out, JonBenet
investigators have no suspect

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2006

BOULDER, Colorado Now that DNA evidence has ruled out one-time suspect John Mark Karr in the murder of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, investigators are left again without a prime suspect and their ears ringing with criticism.

District Attorney Mary Lacy conceded she has no hidden trump card that could be used to confirm the claims of any other would-be confessor, simply because details about the case that authorities normally keep secret have long been revealed in books, news reports and Internet chatter.

"As far as we can tell, there is no physical evidence in this case that has not been in the public domain," Lacy told reporters. "The ability of our office or any law enforcement to connect this crime to a person based on something they know about it that no one else knows was gone a long time ago."

Max Houck, director of West Virginia University's Forensic Science Research Center and co-founder of the Institute for Cold Case Evaluation, said it is hard to imagine working a case so public that authorities cannot eliminate fake confessors by holding back some details.

"If you, as an investigator, know something that only the killer would know, you have a hole card," he said. "But we're in an era where more and more is known about any public case that happens to hit the public's imagination, or at least the media's examination."

Lacy, through a spokeswoman, declined an interview request. But in a news conference, she said she relied solely on phone calls and hundreds of pages of e-mails Karr swapped with University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey to make the case for arresting Karr in Thailand last month and bringing him to Colorado.

Karr, a 41-year-old former teacher who had been obsessed with JonBenet, gave graphic accounts of the crime scene, detailed enough to convince prosecutors he was for real. The case collapsed when his DNA failed to match evidence from the crime scene.

Richard Lavinthal, a former Justice Department spokesman and a public relations consultant for the legal field, criticized Lacy for admitting there was nothing left to separate suspects from pretenders.

"What District Attorney Lacy did was, in effect, announce to the world she has now made the case impossible to solve, unless through some fortuitous action there is someone out there who gets arrested and his DNA gets into a data bank and ends up matching the DNA from the case," Lavinthal said. "It's as if she put up a giant billboard that says 'Attention, the Ramsey case can never be solved.'"
(Top Of Article)

The case is an ugly chapter for the wealthy university town known for its liberalism and scenic beauty. Public fascination with the case is easy to understand, said Michael Radelet, a criminologist and chairman of the University of Colorado's sociology department.

The Ramsey family never fit in in Boulder, and some were eager to blame them, criticizing JonBenet's role in beauty pageants and even the family's conservative politics, he said.

People who do not fit in often become targets, Radelet said, comparing Karr to JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, who died of cancer just weeks before Karr's arrest.

"John Karr was an easy target. The guy is ... a loner," Radelet said. "Patsy Ramsey is a type of easy target. She's new rich, an outsider from Atlanta, Republican and a beauty queen. In Boulder, that's the same as being poor, uneducated and black in Birmingham, (Alabama) in 1930."

Radelet is a member of Families of Homicide Victims & Missing Persons, a group dedicated to getting to the bottom of some of the 1,200 unsolved homicides on the Colorado books. He hopes the Karr episode will encourage investigators to focus on solving other crimes.

No chance. Lacy said she would press on in the JonBenet case.

Lou Smit, a renowned cold case investigator who has worked on the Ramsey case, will not talk specifically about it any more. But he said he remains a believer "that any cold case can be solved."


 

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