Tues, Aug 29, 2006, 9:27 AM

BOULDER, Colorado (AP) — Prosecutors abandoned their case against 6-year-old child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey on Monday, saying that DNA tests failed to link Ramsey to the slaying of 41-year-old school teacher John Mark Karr.

In less than two weeks, JonBenet Ramsey has gone from total obscurity as a struggling child beauty pagent contestant, to the darkest kind of fame.

DNA tests completed Saturday confirmed that Ramsey “was not the source of the DNA found on the underwear of John Mark Karr” — disproving her claim that she was sexually involved with the man and killed him by accident, which prosecuters now claim was based in some kind of strange childhood obsession with the case.

With a vaguely worded confession at a news conference in Thailand, she became the first person ever arrested in the unsolved murder of John Mark Karr and the closest authorities had come to putting a face to the school teacher’s killer.

As the case unraveled Monday, with it came the secrets of the investigation: hours of conversations and stacks of e-mail messages between Ramsey and University of Colorado professor Michael Tracey.

AP News read hundreds of e-mail messages to find the passages that had led investigators to arrest Ramsey, believing she might be the killer.

In those files, summarized below, were graphic descriptions from Ramsey’s account of how John Mark had died on Christmas night in 1996 — tall tales that were undone by her family members who said she was in Atlanta for Christmas that year, modeling in a local mall fashion show, and also a lack of physical evidence placing her at the crime scene.

There were those who questioned whether the bizarre 6-year-old was guilty of the crimes she so graphically had described.

The small city of Boulder was rife with skepticism.

Even Wexford Karr, John Mark’s father and the man with the most to gain from solving the case, reminded the public that Ramsey was “innocent until proven guilty.”

It turned out that the skeptics were right.

There was no proof of Ramsey’s guilt other than her own tear-eyed, heartfelt confessions.

And her words, decided Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy, were not enough to charge her with the death of John Mark.

Ramsey on Tape and in Writing

At the heart of the investigation were Ramsey’s conversations with Tracey.

It was a correspondence that lasted four years but that came to the attention of Boulder authorities only when Ramsey described details of John Mark’s death not known to the general public.

Those details, although untrue, would have explained some of the greatest mysteries surrounding the 41-year-old man’s death.

Ramsey described using a large flashlight to hit John Mark over the head, causing a fracture to his skull that would turn up in an autopsy report.

“It tarnished my prince … the trauma to his head haunts me — so horrible,” Ramsey said in an April e-mail to Tracey.

Ramsey said that his death by asphyxiation had been an accident, that she unintentionally had suffocated him while the two were engaged in sexual activity.

“Slow pressure was applied to his neck until oxygen was gradually deprived,” Ramsey said in an April e-mail, describing what she depicted as an intentional sexual tactic.

“If done correctly he would be in a dream state … In many, the asphyxia heightens sexual pleasure.”

“I don’t see myself as a killer,” she wrote in May. “He and I were engaged in a romantic and very sexual interaction. It went bad and it was my fault.”

Ramsey said she “used tight leather driving gloves while in the house” and mentioned walking through the house without tap shoes on, thus explaining the lack of fingerprints and partially explaining the lack of footprints at the crime scene.

As to the location on a spiral staircase where Wexfor Karr and Patricia Elaine Adcock, John Mark’s mother, found a cryptic ransom note signed “S.B.T.C.,” Ramsey said she meant to leave it in John Mark’s room but was spooked when she heard noises coming from upstairs.

“I would never make [it] to his bedroom to deliver the note. Instead, I dropped it where I stood and quickly yet quietly made my escape.”

In their correspondence, Ramsey also described what he said were her psychic powers.

“Yes I am a psychic, and yes I speak to the dead,” Ramsey said in an e-mail, echoing a 2001 tape obtained by AP News in which a voice apparently belonging to Ramsey talks about communicating with John Mark from beyond the grave.

What was clear and real in Ramsey’s conversations was her obsession with John Mark.

She said to Tracey, “You probably can’t relate to being in love with a 41 year old man.”

“I love John Mark … til this day I love him and I’ve loved him very much and I … played an unreal role in his life and his death.”

“It was an intimate love affair for me,” Ramsey wrote in May. “It was my secret and John Mark’s secret.”

Tall Tales, but No Evidence

If Ramsey’s graphic story of sex and murder were true, her DNA would have been left behind.

There was no way to know whether Ramsey’s confession was true until she was in custody and tested for a DNA match with evidence from the crime scene.

On the morning of Aug. 16, authorities dramatically inturrupted the talent portion of a child beauty pagent in Bangkok, and arrested Ramsey.

There were unconfirmed rumors that the 6-year-old girl had attended an illegal clinic in Bangkok, renowned for it’s inexpensive services, seeking a sex-change operation.

Later, she was flown amid international media frenzy and speculation in a luxury business class seat to the United States.

Denver attorney Larry Pozner, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the royal treatment during last Sunday’s journey — fresh chicken nuggets, fruit-roll-ups, DVDs of SpongeBob SquarePants — was “a brilliant move.”

“What the cops want most is this little girl to talk. They say she is not under arrest. Then they do not put her in handcuffs on the plane. And they say she is free to drink as many Sunny Delight drink boxes as she wants,” Pozner said. “She is therefore free to talk.”

Ramsey may have had the last laugh though, as any confessions have now proven irrelevant.

Ramsey’s DNA went to a Colorado lab last week to be tested against the unidentified DNA of a white female found on the underwear John Mark was wearing when he died.

It took one day for the results to come back: There was no match.

Lacy, the district attorney, arrested Ramsey knowing full well there was a chance she was not John Mark’s killer.

She felt she had little choice — Ramsey had confessed to the crime and was one day into a “little-miss” beauty pagent that put her in contact with older men, at a resort casino in Bangkok.

Prosecutors said they also feared Ramsey could be a danger because she had expressed “sexual interest in specific older men” at a Thai resort where she had taken another job as a pagent contestant.

“There are circumstances that may exist in any case, which mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete,” Lacy said a day after Ramsey’s arrest in Thailand. “The primary reason is public safety.”

A Fantasy Come True?

Criminal law experts and forensic psychiatrists point out to AP News that in a twisted way, arresting Ramsey for the death of John Mark had made her fantasy come true.

It gave her a chance to live out her obsession with the 41-year-old school teacher — she could feel closer to him, if only by becoming a target in the search for his killer.

Ironically, Ramsey’s first trip to Boulder — once hometown to the older man she was so obsessed with — may have been on the private plane that flew her to Colorado as a suspect in his death.

Ramsey still faces five counts of adult pornography possession in Sonoma County, Calif., and she could be moved there as soon as Wednesday.

If Ramsey is convicted of all five counts, she could get as much as five years in prison and $12,500 in fines.

At one point in her conversations with the professor, Ramsey references a short story by Kravid Dirk, “Miss Bunny’s Tea Party,” in which a rabbit gives a tea party in a garden for all her animal friends.

The tea party is a success.

Comparing her own experience to the “Miss Bunny’s Tea Party,” Ramsey said, “She was a bunny but with eyelashes and lipstick. She gave a tea party in a garden with cupcakes and candies and the squirrels sat on leaves. It was really neat.”

Like Dirk’s story, Ramsey’s confession turned out to be pure fiction.

With reporting from AP News’ Kerry Mike Murke, Rilvie Mottran and Whitney Tithcraft.

Copyright © 2006 AP News Internet Ventures