Saturday, September 19, 2009

"A Scar On All Of Us"

Photo of Raymond Clark and one of his attorneys, from the New Haven Register

By Pat Browning

Few mystery novels can match the unutterable sadness of the real life drama going on around the murder of Annie Le at Yale University.

I was reading John Lescroart’s legal thriller, A PLAGUE OF SECRETS, when the Annie Le story began to unfold, so I was already attuned to what the police can and can’t do. I thought it odd that they handcuffed Raymond Clark, “a person of interest,” and hauled him down to the station while they searched his apartment, then turned him loose but staked him out.

Turns out I wasn’t the only person puzzling over it. Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz weighed in Friday on The Huffington Post. Quoting his article:

With the arrest of Raymond Clark on charges of murdering Annie Le, the New Haven police now seem to be acknowledging that he was more than a mere "person of interest" when they handcuffed him and took him into custody two days earlier. He was surely a suspect then, despite the police disclaimers.

The only definite way of knowing what his status was at the time of his initial detention is to see the search warrants signed by the judge and the affidavit submitted in support of that search warrant. If the affidavit alleged, and the warrant found, "probable cause," then his initial detention was probably valid.

If, however, the judge authorized his arrest in handcuffs based on him merely being a "person of interest," then serious constitutional problems arise. But, according to the Yale Daily News, the authorities have refused to disclose any of these documents, even the name of the judge who signed the warrant.

It would be a sad day in America if anyone deemed by the police to be a "person of interest" -- which could include anyone who worked with, knew, or came in contact with the victim -- could be handcuffed, placed in a police car and hauled down to the police station, even if only for a few hours.

This is precisely the sort of conduct that we, as a nation, condemn when carried out in other parts of the world. Our Constitution demands that a seizure -- roughly the equivalent of an arrest -- not be unreasonable. In general that means that the police must demonstrate to a judge that they have probable cause for believing that the person may be guilty of a crime.

The evidence of Clark's complicity in Le's death now seems substantial, if there was in fact a DNA match and if his card swipe and e-mails confirm his contact with her just prior to her disappearance. But the evidence that he murdered her in premeditated fashion seems sparse.

Indeed, the manner by which her body was hidden appears to be inconsistent with long term planning. As a matter of law, however, premeditation can occur over a very short period of time. Moreover, if we ultimately learn that Le was sexually assaulted by Clark -- and I've heard nothing to suggest this -- her death would be classified as felony murder under the law of most states.

There is much yet to be learned about this horrible crime, most particularly with regard to the motive of the killer. At trial, if there is a trial rather than a plea, Clark will benefit from a presumption of innocence, not only with regard to whether he committed the crime, but also with regard to whether the crime was murder, manslaughter or something else. Stay tuned.

A further brief note appeared on The Huffington Post:
“Hartford news station WTIC/Fox61 reports that police are questioning a second suspect in the murder of Annie Le. Sources tell the station that a second person may have helped Raymond Clark III, who was arrested and charged yesterday, hide Le's body behind the wall of a lab building. Clark's fiancĂ©e, sister and brother-in-law all work at the lab.”

Stay tuned indeed.

A fairly tight lid has been kept on the case, but details leak out. Clark played in a softball game the day Le’s body was found. Some saw him as a control freak. As a lab technician responsible for the welfare of research animals he was reportedly rude and demanding of students doing the research.

According to a story in the New York Times, the arrest warrant runs to 1,000 pages, but it’s sealed for two weeks because of an ongoing investigation. The police chief is quoted as saying we may never know the motive and all theories are speculation.

From the Times story: “Chief James Lewis of the New Haven police would not speak about a possible motive, but said, ‘It is important to note that this is not about urban crime, university crime, domestic crime, but an issue of workplace violence, which is becoming a growing concern around the country.’”

The Times also quotes Richard Levin, university president: “This killing could have happened in any city, in any university. It says more about the dark side of the human soul than it does about the extent of security measures.”

The human toll taken by the Yale murder cannot be measured. Clark had scratches and bruises on his face and chest – defensive wounds, if he is indeed the killer, and evidence of how hard Annie Le fought for her life. Her family, her friends, her fiancĂ© and his family, must live with that. The killer and his family, too, are caught in a nightmare.

The case reminds Scott Herhold, a columnist for the (San Jose) Mercury News of an unsolved 1974 murder at Stanford University. He says it still nags at the Sheriff’s Office, and adds: “There's a reason murder has no statute of limitations. It leaves a scar on all of us, even 35 years later.”


Liberty Speidel said...

Interesting take. I too, as a mystery writer, have been following this case with great interest, and one thing I've found mind-boggling is just how fast the DNA evidence has been apparently verified. All the news reports have indicated the police have pretty much verified that Clark's the killer via DNA, but I thought it took weeks or months for those test results to come back. I guess if it's a high profile case, the lab techs will bend over backwards to get it done, huh?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Handcuffing someone and letting him go two hours later doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said...


A DNA test can be done almost while you wait if it's given top priority. There's actually a DNA "lab" that fits in a briefcase, developed for use to identify the dead on battlefields. There are quick and portable DNA kits to test for paternity.

Like so many things, "it all depends" on who's testing for what. In the Yale case, so many law enforcement entities are involved, I'm sure they pulled out all the stops.

Pat Browning

Anonymous said...


It was weird. They had him under surveillance from the git-go. I don't understand their procedure either. Maybe they hoped to intimidate him into confessing. We may have to wait until someone writes a book about it!


Mark W. Danielson said...

As the saying goes, the truth is [too often] stranger than fiction.

Beth Terrell said...

Pat, you're right. This is a fascinating, though horrible story. I will be interested to see how the investigation unfolded.