Year in Review: The Great Pretenders

Welcome to the 2006 Hall of Shame.

4-2. (Three-way tie) JOHN MARK KARR, MICHAEL TRACEY and

MARY LACY

Occupations: Pathological liar, pseudo-sleuth and ersatz prosecutor, respectively.

Offense: Pretending to conduct a murder investigation.

These three are a package deal. No single phony could have brought the Ramsey case back into the headlines like this. It took John Mark Karr, Michael Tracey and Mary Lacy -- all pursuing separate agendas yet remarkably in step, like synchronized swimmers -- to turn Boulder into a global joke once more.

The first essential ingredient in this steamy crock of bad karma is Karr, a man of many personae, an exotic herb amid the ditchweed. Alias Daxis. Boasts of intimate relations with young girls that may or may not have occurred. Known to chatter on about his "female side," perform Katharine Hepburn impersonations and express interest in sex-change surgery. Obsessed with the murder of JonBenét Ramsey to the point of composing an elaborate confession to the crime that manages to be implausible, repellent and twee all at the same time.

Next, add a few foamy pints of Tracey, the University of Colorado journalism professor who rose from academic obscurity to cable-show notoriety on the strength of his involvement in a series of slipshod documentaries about the case, defending JonBenét's parents and serving up other suspects. Always on the lookout for fresh fall guys, Tracey is approached by Karr online in the guise of Daxis. Just as eager to play dress-up, Tracey pretends to befriend the poor bugger.

Over the course of many months, the fake killer and his fake friend whip the fake confession into shape; Tracey supplies Karr with key details that fill in some of the gaps in his story. At the same time, Tracey helps detectives track down Karr so they can arrest him in Thailand and fly him back to Boulder, thereby helping the cause of justice itself -- not to mention the cause of the inevitable documentary to follow. Such a helpful fellow!

But the international uproar over Karr's arrest wouldn't have been possible without that vital third component, a dash of extra-thick District Attorney Lacy. She inherited the Ramsey mess from her predecessor but soon managed to simplify matters by publicly declaring that the most likely suspect was an intruder. Undeterred by the inconsistencies in Karr's story or Tracey's role in the whole business, Lacy went after Karr like Ignatz after Krazy Kat, brick in hand.

His DNA no match for the evidence, Karr is now a free man, famous for what he did not do. In their latest documentary, Tracey and producer David Mills are still pushing Karr as some kind of behind-the-scenes accomplice to the real killer. The bogus investigation cost Boulder at least $35,000 in real money and precious shreds of its criminal-justice system's tattered credibility, but Lacy soldiers on. "I feel bad for a community that questions what we did," she told reporters in August, defending the arrest.

Yeah, but we feel worse.

1. TED HAGGARD

Occupation:Sinner.

Offense: Threw away a bright future in the church -- and perfectly good meth.

You were expecting maybe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

In this year of deceit, other people did more terrible things, with a greater impact on public trust, than Pastor Ted. But Haggard heads our list for the simple reason that his fall from grace is so emblematic of the deep divide within our national psyche, so evocative of the state of denial among our leaders of their own deep-rooted compulsions and moral myopia, so redolent of textbook self-destructive behavior, soŠmessed up in the head.

Haggard wasn't just any preacher beset by temptation. He was president of the National Association of Evangelicals, head of the largest evangelical church in Colorado, a confidant of political titans and one of the most influential religious leaders in the country. Yet once a month or so, according to Mike Jones, he sought Jones's services as a male escort and occasionally asked him to score some meth.

Jones says this double life went on for at least three years. In stepping down from his pulpit, Haggard talked of "a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life." But if there was a war, it was a clandestine one his flock never saw. He embraced in private the kinds of things -- and the kind of person -- he denounced in public. And he did so right up until the time that Jones found out who he was and, fed up with all the Colorado Springs-based attacks on the so-called gay agenda, decided to introduce Private Ted to Public Ted.

What was surprising was how quickly Public Ted crumbled. In the course of 48 hours, he went from flat denial of any connection with Jones, to an admission that he'd bought drugs from him (but then thrown them away) and paid him for a massage, to calling himself "a deceiver and a liar" in his letter resigning as the pastor of New Life Church.

Like all disgraced stars, Haggard is now in rehab, working on his comeback. In the evangelical world, that involves repentance, forgiveness and a lengthy casting-out of any lingering demons of gayness. But the repulsive and dark part of Haggard's story isn't his conflicted sexuality or his possible drug habit. It's the deceit, the hypocrisy, the reckless disregard for those who trusted him and believed in him.

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