By ALAINE GRIFFIN, firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW HAVEN — One after another, relatives of slain Yale graduate student Annie Le addressed the court with wrenching declarations about their loss and the senseless crime that brought it about. Then the man who confessed to her murder, Raymond Clark III, wiped his eyes and told the court he took full responsibility.
“I am truly sorry I took Annie away from her friends, her family and most of all her fiancé,” said Clark, who killed Le in a Yale University research building in September 2009 and stuffed her body behind a wall only days before she was to be married. “I have always tried to do the right thing and stay out of trouble but I failed.
“I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie’s friends, family and fiancé sat and waited,” Clark said. “Annie was and will always be a wonderful person, by far a better person than I will ever be in my life. I’m sorry I lied. I’m sorry I ruined lives. And I’m sorry for taking Annie Le’s life.”
Moments later, Judge Roland D. Fasano sentenced Clark to prison for 44 years for a crime the judge called “mind numbing.”
“Closure is not a likely scenario,” Fasano said.
The sentence capped an hour’s worth of emotional testimony from Le’s family.
Her mother, Vivian Van Le, told Clark that she will never understand why he took away her only daughter.
In a steady, calm voice, she read a statement in Superior Court, just a few feet from where Clark sat.
“I will never hug Annie again. The world will never know what she had to offer,” Le said. “I will never see her walking down the aisle. I will never hold my grandchildren.”
“Her life is gone,” Le continued. “Society lost a great woman. My family lost a beautiful soul.”
The mother and other family members traveled from California for this afternoon’s sentencing hearing.
The 44-year sentence was part of a plea agreement for the slaying of Le, 24, a third-year doctoral student in pharmacology from Placerville, Calif. The prosecutor said the length of the sentence initially was not “entirely satisfactory” to either side. Clark, 26, of Middletown, will get out of prison in 2053.
Other family members followed Le’s mother in addressing the court. As family members spoke, Clark dabbed his red eyes with a tissue. He often looked at the speaker or up toward the ceiling.
Truong Van Bui, Annie’s uncle, broke down in tears as he recounted the horrifying phone call he received on Sept. 9, 2009 — just days before Annie was to be married on Long Island — saying Annie was missing.
Still, he held on to the belief that she was OK. On Sept. 11, he went to New York anyway, determined to believe that the wedding would still take place. It was there that he learned she was dead.
Bui sobbed as he talked about what he believed were Annie’s final moments.
“Annie’s death was not a random act,” he said. “It was a deliberate choice of an evil act against another human being.”
Le was killed and her body stuffed into a wall of a Yale University research center. Her body was discovered Sept. 13, on what was to be her wedding day.
Robert Nguyen, the uncle who raised Annie, read a statement saying that Clark should not get anything less than a life sentence, and that the family’s pain and suffering has been “immeasurable.”
Annie’s younger brother spoke through tears of how he had counseling after her death. A victim advocate sat with him, patting his back. The brother said he hopes that Clark carries the burden and guilt of killing his sister.
Clark pleaded guilty to charges of murder and criminal attempt to commit first-degree sexual assault in March and averted a trial as part of a deal made in the case.
Raymond Clark Jr., Clark’s father, said the killing shocked the nation. He acknowledged the pain on both sides and expressed condolences to Le’s family.
The senior Clark said Raymond’s family loves him.
Le was scheduled to marry a New York man on Sept. 13, 2009, but was reported missing on Sept. 8, 2009. For days, local and state investigators and the FBI searched the basement of the Yale Animal Research Center, a research building at the Yale School of Medicine complex where Le was last seen alive. Clark worked at the center and Le did research there.
Police found Le’s body stuffed inside a wall at the center the day Le was to be married. The state medical examiner said that Le died of traumatic asphyxiation due to neck compression. The search for Le, speculation that she was a “runaway bride,” the incident’s ties to Yale and the subsequent arrest of Clark attracted widespread media attention.
Court records show that investigators based their arrest of Clark on DNA evidence, a combination of computer records of security cards that showed Clark’s movements at the lab on Sept. 8, the day Le was last seen alive, and his attempts to clean up the crime scene.
Clark was originally charged with murder and felony murder. Each charge carries a punishment of 25 to 60 years in prison.
Le’s family has raised questions about the school’s handling of Le’s disappearance and the investigation of her death. They have said through attorneys that they were considering legal action, possibly against Yale.
According to court records, Le swiped her key card at 10:11 a.m. in a lab room at the research center on Sept. 8, 2009. Clark, who tended the animals there, wasn’t far behind, reporting for work at the center 29 minutes later.
At 11:04 a.m., Clark, wearing blue jeans, white shoes and a dark-colored jacket with white stripes, entered the lab where Le was working and remained there for 46 minutes. He signed in as “RC,” using a green-ink pen, records state.
Clark was busy at the lab that day, according to key-card activity that shows a person’s movement in, out and throughout the center, a state-of-the-art secure building on Amistad Street.
From 10:40 a.m. that morning until 3:45 p.m., Clark went in and out of the lab room where Le was working and another room down the hall 55 times, according to the court documents.
When he left the building that day, Clark was seen wearing different clothes from the ones he entered wearing.
Le, however, was never heard from again.
But on Sept. 13, just hours before Le was to be married, police noticed a foul odor emanating from a lower-level locker room. Police dogs found the “lifeless body of a female.” She was wearing surgical gloves with her left thumb exposed. Blood was smeared behind the wall, and insulation was used to try to conceal the body. Detectives found three key items inside the hiding space: a green-ink pen, a bloodstained lab coat, and a sock similar to the one found in the hallway drop ceiling.
At that time, investigators examined Clark’s movements in the building on Sept. 8. They found that Clark’s key card activity was “substantially higher in comparison to his prior use,” according to court records.
On Sept. 15, police searched Clark’s Middletown apartment and took samples from him in an effort to obtain his DNA.
According to Clark’s arrest warrant affidavit, police got the match they needed to make an arrest. On the green-ink pen, investigators found a bloodstain that contained Le’s DNA, and they found Clark’s DNA on the pen cap.
A stain on the sock found above the ceiling tile contains “a mixture of both Raymond Clark’s DNA and the victim’s DNA,” the affidavit states.
Clark’s guilty plea to the charge of criminal attempt to commit sexual assault was entered under the Alford doctrine, meaning that Clark does not admit guilt but concedes that there is probably enough evidence to convict him at trial. Clark will reportedly not be eligible for parole.