LOS ANGELES -- John Mark Karr, the suspect in the death of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, arrived late last night after a 15-hour flight from Thailand on which he sipped champagne, dined on fried king prawns and roast duck, and exchanged what he described as ``small talk" with law enforcement escorts.
Karr voluntarily returned to the United States, and he was not handcuffed in his business class seat. He was expected to be detained by Los Angeles authorities pending a hearing on extradition to Boulder, Colo., where authorities have issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with the 1996 murder of Ramsey.
His Thai Airways International flight took off about 8 p.m. local time in Bangkok. The 41-year-old teacher sat in a business-class window seat next to Mark Spray, an investigator with the Boulder County district attorney's office. A US Embassy official and a security agent were also part of the escort party.
Before takeoff, Karr took a glass of champagne from a flight attendant and clinked glasses with Spray, who sipped orange juice.
Dinner on board, served on a starched white tablecloth with silverware, was one many passengers would envy.
Karr started with a pate, then had a green salad with walnut dressing. The main course was fried king prawn with steamed rice and broccoli. Karr drank a beer, crushing the can with his hands when it was empty, then moved on to a glass of chardonnay with his main course.
``It seems odd to me. If there is an arrest warrant issued, he ought to be under arrest," said former Adams County district attorney Bob Grant, who was involved in the Ramsey investigation. ``It is very strange. Whoever is in control of him ought to make sure he isn't doing things like drinking champagne."
Other observers suspected officials were trying to loosen up Karr so he would talk.
``It could be that if he got a little inebriated he would make further statements that could include or exclude him from this case," said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor.
Karr told reporters Thursday that he was alone with JonBenet when she died in the basement of her Boulder home on Dec. 26, 1996, but that her death was an accident.
However, there is little public evidence linking him to the crime, prompting some analysts to question whether he is either lying or delusional.
US officials who have interrogated Karr have been silent about what he told them, citing his right to privacy and legal procedures. Secondhand accounts by Thai officials have been contradictory.
After landing in Los Angeles late last night, Karr was expected to be processed by immigration officials and then arrested by local authorities on a warrant from a Colorado court, said Carolyn French of the Boulder County district attorney's office.
Karr will then have an extradition hearing in Los Angeles within the next few days, French said. If he agrees to waive extradition, Karr will then be taken to Boulder County.
``If he fights extradition that is a much more lengthy process," French said.
Karr was brought back to the United States on a temporary passport.
Just hours before Karr's departure, a doctor at a seedy but popular clinic in downtown Bangkok specializing in sex-change surgery said Karr had come in for treatment.
``He was one of my patients," Dr. Thep Vechavisit of the Pratunam Polyclinic said. He refused to provide further details.
Another employee at the clinic, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, said Karr had talked with the doctor about a sex-change operation. This could not be confirmed by other sources.
Bangkok, where Karr lived on and off for two years, is regarded as a major global center for sex-change operations.