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Professor: Suspect's e-mails laid foundation for his arrest

Colorado professor Michael Tracey got many e-mails about the JonBenet case. But those from Karr were different, he says.

Published August 19, 2006

BOULDER, Colo. - University of Colorado journalism professor Michael Tracey said he swapped e-mails for four years with a man interested in the JonBenet Ramsey case, never knowing his name, never feeling the need to contact authorities.

Until May.

Something was different about the man's messages, Tracey said this week, but he declined to be more specific. He gave the correspondence to prosecutors, and that, he said, led to the arrest of John Mark Karr in one of the nation's most puzzling unsolved slayings.

It all started with an e-mail in 2002 that was among the thousands of messages Tracey said he has received about his documentaries on the 1996 slaying of the 6-year-old girl.

Most of the e-mails, he said, come from amateur sleuths offering wild theories about the slaying, "including a connection to 9/11."

But one e-mail from the mystery man made Tracey decide he "had to do something."

Tracey, 58, revealed little about the contents of the message. "I'm not going to say what it was," he said.

Pressed on whether his tip was essential to Karr's arrest, Tracey would only nod and say, "apparently." Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy refused Thursday to discuss any details of the case with reporters.

Tracey came to Colorado in 1988 from England, where he led a British think tank on media issues. He has published eight books, as well as pieces in academic journals, and produced three documentaries, including "Who Killed the Pageant Queen? Suspects," made for NBC's Dateline mystery series; and Witness: Who Killed JonBenet? for British TV.

Tracey praised the district attorney's office and criticized the Boulder Police Department, which has been accused of botching the case in its early stages.

"I think the history of the track record of this case with the police is not great," he said.

Long a defender of JonBenet's parents while investigators said they were under an "umbrella of suspicion," Tracey criticized those who discounted the possibility that an intruder was the real culprit.

He praised the energy shown by Lacy and her team in tracking down leads.

"There are a lot of wingnuts out there, and a lot of information, a lot of stories get told that are presented to the district attorney that are weird, and I think in the first instance there was a certain skepticism," he said. "They've performed incredibly, and in a sense restored my faith in law enforcement."

On Friday, Tracey declined to comment on excerpts from the e-mails he exchanged with Karr, which were published by the Rocky Mountain News on Thursday. A statement provided by a University of Colorado spokesman said Tracey would continue to decline interview requests "until he feels the time is right."

"Tracey said it is important now that people respect the judicial process and make no judgments about the guilt or innocence of the suspect until more information is available," the statement said.

[Last modified August 19, 2006, 01:50:42]

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