BOULDER, Colo. - A man suspected in the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey nearly a decade ago was arrested Wednesday in Thailand, the district attorney said in the long-awaited breakthrough in one of the nation's most lurid unsolved murder cases. District Attorney Mary Lacey said the arrest followed several months of work. She disclosed no details about the suspect before a news conference scheduled for Thursday.
CBS reported that he is a 41-year-old second-grade teacher and will be brought back to the United States this weekend. Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the man was already being held in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges.
Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood said in Atlanta that the arrest was vindication for JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, who came under suspicion in the slaying.
Wood said the Ramseys learned about the suspect a least a month before Patsy Ramsey's death June 24 after a long battle with ovarian cancer.
"It's been a very long 10 years, and I'm just sorry Patsy isn't here for me to hug her neck," the attorney said.
Wood said that he had been told that the suspect once lived in Conyers, Ga., outside of Atlanta. He would not comment on whether the Ramseys knew him, and he said he knew nothing else about the man. The Ramseys lived in Georgia up until 1991; they moved back to Atlanta after their daughter's death.
JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of the family's home in Boulder on Dec. 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note demanding $118,000 for her daughter.
The image of blonde-haired little JonBenet in child beauty contests has haunted TV talk shows for years afterward, helping feed myriad theories about her killer.
Investigators said at one point that JonBenet's parents were under an "umbrella of suspicion" in the slaying. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.
In the months after the slaying, Patsy Ramsey went before the cameras, vigorously defending herself and her husband, chastising the media and blasting local law enforcement as incompetent.
In a statement Wednesday, John Ramsey said: "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."
In 2003, a federal judge in Atlanta concluded that the evidence she reviewed suggested an intruder killed JonBenet. That opinion came with the judge's decision to dismiss a libel and slander lawsuit against the Ramseys by a freelance journalist, whom the Ramseys had named as a suspect in their daughter's murder. The Boulder district attorney at the time said she agreed with the judge's declaration.
Wood said Wednesday's arrest further vindicated his clients.
"I am sure there were still doubts in the minds of individuals whose thinking had been poisoned against this family because of the years of false accusations," Wood said.
"Today is additional vindication of the family, but I think that knowledgeable individuals familiar with the evidence in the case have known for many years that this family was falsely accused, that they were innocent and that what they lived through in the last 10 years was an American tragedy."
Wood said he and the Ramseys "have been totally amazed and impressed with the professionalism of law enforcement" under Lacey's direction. Lacey became district attorney in 2001.
Law enforcement officials from Boulder were flying to Bangkok to present Thai authorities with documents in the slaying, officials in Washington said. They asked to remain anonymous pending an announcement in Colorado.
KUSA-TV of Denver, citing no sources, reported that the suspect has confessed to certain elements of the crime.