Related topics

Utah Abduction Probe Taking Time

June 28, 2002

%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:WXS112-062602; AUDIO:049%)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ For more than a week, investigators looking into the disappearance of Elizabeth Smart urgently wanted to talk to a drifter they said might have information about the mysterious abduction.

But once Bret Edmunds was found, recovering from a drug overdose in a hospital 1,800 miles away, police appeared to lose interest. And Richard Ricci, an ex-convict who once worked as a handyman in the Smart home, went to the top of the list of potential suspects.

There were earlier dead-ends in the 3-week-old case _ the man with a missing front tooth and a multicolored Rastafarian-style knit hat, the apparently fruitless search of nearby Emigration Canyon for the girl.

So does this mean the Salt Lake City police are floundering, much as Boulder, Colo., police were accused of in the JonBenet Ramsey case?

Not at all, some experts say. They say Salt Lake City investigators appear to be doing what they need to do to build a case.

To Mike King, a criminal justice instructor, investigator for the Utah attorney general’s office and coordinator of the Utah Criminal Tracking and Analysis Project, it is methodical police work.

In fact, he said, police investigating a crime should not come to a conclusion too soon. ``We can sometimes develop a theory before we have all the facts. Then we can spend all our time adjusting our facts to fit the theory,″ King said.

Police say 14-year-old Elizabeth was taken at gunpoint from her bedroom in the early morning hours of June 5.

The early stages of the case were marked by misinformation.

Police initially reported that Elizabeth’s 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine, was threatened by the kidnapper. But after police talked a fourth time with the younger girl, they changed their account and said that Mary Elizabeth had pretended to be asleep through much of the abduction and that the kidnapper may not have realized she was watching.

Investigators say that during the first couple of days, police had to move fast _ and chase down all sorts of possibilities _ because the chances of finding the teen unharmed diminished as the hours passed.

Scott Robinson, a Denver defense attorney who closely watched the 1996 JonBenet case, said police in Boulder were accused of sloppy police work and were criticized for their refusal to quickly call in the FBI and for what was seen as arrogance when anyone asked a tough question.

In contrast, Salt Lake City investigators appear to be highly professional, Robinson said. If they are withholding investigative details, the lawyer said, that is exactly what they should be doing. Certain crime-scene details known only to the police and the suspect can be used to confirm whether investigators have the right man.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said police have received between 8,000 and 10,000 leads. They culled 1,300 as worth checking out. As of last week, Dinse said, 900 had been cleared, leaving 400 to go.

``There’s a whole bunch of questions out there but not enough answers,″ Capt. Scott Atkinson said.


On the Net:

Elizabeth Smart: http://www.elizabethsmart.com

Update hourly