John Mark Karr, 41, was arrested Wednesday in the Thai capital and was expected to be extradited within days to the US to face charges in the case. Police had been tracking him for several months following email exchanges he conducted with a journalism professor who made several documentaries on the JonBenet Ramsey case.
A senior Thai police official told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that under questioning in Bangkok, Karr said he had chloroformed the child so that he could rape her in the basement of her home.
'He told us that after sex he realized he had accidently killed her,' said General Suwat Tumrongsiskul, director of immigration police. 'He also told us that they loved each other. She was 'his' beauty queen.'
In a press conference in Boulder, Colorado, where the murder took place, District Attorney Mary Lacy insisted there was still a lot of work to be done on the case.
'John Karr is innocent until proven guilty,' she said, reciting a familiar presumption of US courts.
Karr, who for years had travelled around Asia teaching English, appeared nervous when presented Thursday to a crowded US-Thai press conference.
'I loved JonBenet. She died accidentally,' he said.
Karr has been in Thailand for two months and recently applied for a job as an English teacher.
He was apprehended after an investigation involving 'lots of people, lots of agencies working for a long time,' said Ann Hurst, attache for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
She said he had been tracked for three weeks before his arrest Wednesday by Thai police, working with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Karr will be extradited to Colorado within days to face investigation and trial on charges of premeditated murder, kidnap and abuse of a minor, she said.
When officers seized him in his small, central Bangkok apartment he rebutted the charge of first-degree murder.
'It was not first-degree. It was second degree. It was an accident,' General Suwut quoted Karr as saying when he was arrested.
The murder of JonBenet in Colorado caused a sensation in the US when initial police suspicions fell on her wealthy parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. Despite years of suspicion, however, no solid evidence was ever presented against them.
Before her death, the child had been entered in several beauty contests by her former beauty queen mother and businessman father. This prompted one US newspaper to describe her as 'a painted baby, a sexualized toddler beauty queen.'
A score of books, including one by the parents, have been written in the last decade about the crime and its aftermath.
Karr was wanted in Sonoma County, California, for failing to appear in court in December 2001 on five counts of possession of child pornography, according to the Bay City News Service. His wife, reportedly the mother of his three children, divorced him after he was charged, according to the Petaluma Argus-Courier.
He was employed for a few months as a substitute elementary school teacher in California in 2001, records show. His resumes subsequently list teaching jobs in Asia, Europe and Latin America, according to the Rocky Mountain News.
Karr's brother, Nate Karr, insisted that his brother was innocent but that he might have become a suspect after doing 'in-depth' research for a book he proposed to write about men who commit crimes against girls, including JonBenet.
'This is the only possible way that we think that he could have been brought into this, because, of course, there is going to be no physical evidence,' Nate Karr told Fox News.
The Ramsey family attorney, Lin Wood, told MSNBC that the arrests had vindicated a family who had been enormously abused by the justice system and popular opinion. Wood said that the family has given evidence about Karr to the police, though it remains unclear if they knew the suspect.
The mother, Patsy Ramsey, died of ovarian cancer in June.
'Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case, and had she lived to see this day, would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development almost 10 years after our daughter's murder,' John Ramsey said in a statement.