Investigator, lab employee charged for selling crime photos
COLORADO–Former sheriff’s deputy Brett Allen Sawyer and photo lab employee Lawrence Shawn Smith were arrested in mid-January on charges of leaking crime scene photos of slain six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey and selling them to a national tabloid, according to the Associated Press.
Smith was a processor with Photo Craft Laboratories, which routinely handled coroner’s office photos. He was fired and charged with theft, tampering with physical evidence and obstructing government operations. If convicted, Smith would face up to 8 1/2 years in prison and more than $600,000 in fines. Sawyer, now a private investigator, was charged with obstructing government operations. Sawyer faces up to six months in jail and a $750 fine.
The Associated Press reported that Sawyer and Smith sold seven photos to the Globe for $5,500. The tabloid published five of them on January 13. Several Denver-area newspapers and TV stations have since announced that they will not run or air the Globe photos. Boulder County has dropped a lawsuit aimed at blocking the 1.3-million- circulation weekly from running any more of the photos after the Globe agreed to return all the photos bought from Sawyer.
According to the Associated Press, Sawyer told investigators he was hired by Globe Executive Editor Brian Williams in early January to find out what he could about the murder investigation of the young girl found dead in her basement. Sawyer approached Smith and asked him about the photos. Smith then showed Sawyer the negatives from the crime scene slides and Sawyer chose 20 of them. Smith made prints for which he was paid $200 and Sawyer sent them to the Globe.
Ramsey was found strangled in the basement of her home on December 26 after her mother reported finding a ransom note on a stairway. The photos in question depict a garotte, a stick wrapped in rope which was reportedly used to strangle Ramsey, and a photo apparently showing rope marks on her wrist.