Technician in custody in Yale graduate student killing
Wednesday 16 September 2009
Police and FBI agents searched the home of a Yale University animal research technician and led him away in handcuffs to the cheers of neighbours in a hunt for evidence that might tie him to the killing of a graduate student.
No charges were filed against 24-year-old Raymond Clark III in Middletown, Connecticut, but police took him into custody while searching for DNA and other physical evidence. Police said Clark would be released after they obtain evidence they need from him and his Middletown apartment.
Clark was escorted out of the apartment building in Middletown and into a silver car. Neighbours leaned over the apartment building's iron railings and cheered as police led him away Tuesday night.
New Haven Police Chief James Lewis described Clark as a person of interest, not a suspect, in the death of 24-year-old Annie Le. The Yale graduate student's body was found stuffed behind a wall in a campus research building on Sunday, the day she was to be married.
Lewis said police were hoping to compare DNA taken from Clark's hair, fingernails and saliva to more than 150 pieces of evidence collected from the crime scene. That evidence may also be compared at a state lab with DNA samples given voluntarily from other people with access to the crime scene.
"We're going to narrow this down," Lewis said. "We're going to do this as quickly as we can."
Police have collected more than 700 hours of videotape during the probe and sifted through computer records documenting who entered what parts of the research building where Le was found dead.
Investigators began staking out Clark's home on Monday, a day after they discovered Le's body hidden in a basement wall of a facility at Yale's medical school that housed research animals. She vanished on 8 September.
Clark shares the apartment with his girlfriend, Jennifer Hromadka, whom he is engaged to marry in December 2011, according to the couple's wedding website.
"He seemed like a normal guy to me, no big deal," said Ivan Hernandez, 22, who lives directly above Clark and would often see him sitting on a bench outside their apartment building and smoking. "I thought he was nice, actually."
Neither the couple nor Clark's parents returned repeated telephone calls yesterday.
Clark moved to Middletown from New Haven six months ago, where he shared an apartment with his girlfriend and three cats, according to former neighbour Taylor Goodwin, 16.
Police have said Clark is a lab technician at Yale. It's unclear how long he worked there and Clark's supervisors would not comment yesterday.
Le worked for a Yale laboratory that conducted experiments on mice. Clark works in the same lab.
Authorities had been tightlipped since Le was reported missing last week. Police say they have ruled out her fiancee, a Columbia University graduate student, as a suspect but have provided little additional information.
Officials had promised yesterday to release an autopsy report that would shed light on exactly how Le died. But then prosecutors blocked release of the results out of concern that it could hinder the investigation.
Investigators usually have reasons for keeping information secret during a criminal probe, said David Zlotnick, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.
Secrecy helps police confront possible suspects with little-known evidence about a crime and makes it harder them to fabricate a cover story.
The Le family issued a statement yesterday through a family friend, the Rev. Dennis Smith, that thanked friends and the Yale community for their support during their grieving. The family also asked for privacy.
The secrecy surrounding the case has bred confusion in some quarters, and officials have repeatedly denied media reports.
The lack of information also has led to some measure of fear at Yale, which last dealt with a homicide in 1998 - the sensational and still-unsolved stabbing death of 21-year-old Suzanne Jovin about 2 miles from campus.
Yale President Richard Levin was more forthcoming to Yale medical students, telling them Monday that police have narrowed the number of potential suspects to a small pool because security systems at the building where Le's body was found recorded who entered the building and what times they entered.
The building is accessible to Yale personnel with identification cards. Some 75 video surveillance cameras monitor all doorways.
Several news organisations have reported that police were interviewing a possible suspect who failed a polygraph test and had defense wounds on his body. At least one reported yesterday that it was the lab technician in Middletown.
"That this horrible tragedy happened at all is incomprehensible," said Le's roommate, Natalie Powers. "That it happened to her, I think is infinitely more so. It seems completely senseless."
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