The Daily News of New York was a bit more subdued Tuesday than it had been when John Mark Karr was arrested and the paper's front cover screamed "Solved!" Instead, it carried a small headline that said, "JonBenet case collapses in shambles."
Karr, an obviously twisted person who claimed to have strangled 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey despite his innocence, as demonstrated by a DNA test, has led prosecutors and the public on a ride that has become eerily familiar in this case. Prosecutors seem unable to move without making blunders. Many in the media seem unable to cover twists in the story without hyperventilating and overdramatizing.
In the meantime, the murder of a beautiful 6-year-old girl remains unsolved. And the fact that Karr has received, and apparently reveled in, attention at her expense is particularly distasteful.
The nation's fascination with this story may not be too difficult to understand. JonBenet was a beautiful girl from a family that seemed to have all that many people want. The crime took place within the house. Police and investigators began making horrible mistakes virtually from the start. The case riveted the nation's attention like the Lindbergh kidnapping or, to use an example more close to home, like the abduction of Elizabeth Smart.
But while the time has certainly not come to abandon this case, the time has long passed for the nation, and certain media outlets, to stop obsessing and prematurely convicting. Nothing will be solved until a jury or a judge says so. Justice won't be done until the evidence supports a conviction.
Karr certainly seemed a likely suspect. He may yet be extradited to California to face charges connected to child pornography. His bizarre "confession" may be an indication that he has, indeed, done other horrible things worthy of criminal charges.
But as much as some would like to equate an arrest to guilt, that's not how this nation's justice system works. This case is a sad reminder that an effective justice system has to work with deliberate speed and a thoroughness that tends to be at odds with the public appetite. If it does otherwise, more than just this one case will end up in shambles.