June 4 (Bloomberg) -- Former Yale University laboratory worker Raymond Clark was given a 44-year prison term for murdering graduate student Annie Le five days before she was to be married.
Clark, 26, was sentenced yesterday by Connecticut Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano in New Haven. He pleaded guilty on March 17 to murdering and attempting to sexually assault Le in 2009. He agreed to the 44-year sentence in his plea deal.
“I’m truly, truly sorry for taking Annie’s life,” Clark told the judge. “I blame only myself, and there are no excuses for what I’ve done.”
Clark admitted strangling Le, 24, a pharmacology student, days before her wedding planned for Sept. 13, 2009. He cleaned mouse cages in the lab building where her body was found.
He wore a blue dress shirt and dark slacks to court. His parents and fiancée, Jennifer Hromadka, sat across an aisle from Le’s family.
“I will never see Annie’s dreams come true,” the victim’s mother, Vivian Le, told Fasano before he imposed the sentence. “He took away her life. He took away her future.”
Le’s body was discovered hidden behind a wall in the basement of the Yale School of Medicine research lab at 10 Amistad Street in New Haven the day she was to be married. The Office of Connecticut’s Chief Medical Examiner said Le died of “traumatic asphyxiation due to neck compression.”
Notes in Sock
At Clark’s plea hearing, state prosecutor David Strollo said Le’s body was found with her bra pushed up and her panties at her feet. Clark had two notes in his sock reaching out to people for an alibi while he was in custody after being arrested, prosecutors said.
“I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie’s friends, family and fiancée sat and waited,” Clark said yesterday in court. “All I wanted was to be a good son, a good brother and a good fiancée, but again I failed.”
Fasano sentenced Clark to 44 years for murder and 20 years for attempted sexual assault, to run concurrently.
“He has forfeited his youth -- he may well have forfeited his life,” Fasano said in sentencing Clark, noting that if he lives out his sentence he won’t be released until he’s 70 years old.
Before Clark’s arrest, the police found a green ink pen and a bloodstained sock at the crime scene with both his and Le’s DNA on them, the state said in court papers.
Investigators found Le’s e-mail address in a locker marked “Ray” in the lab building where they both worked, according to search-warrant documents.
A university police officer, Sabrina Wood, observed Clark in the lab acting suspiciously two days after Le’s death, attempting to conceal a blood-spattered box of wipes, according to an arrest affidavit by New Haven Detective Scott Branfuhr.
The box was on a steel cart in the last room Le logged into with her security card. The spatter matched her DNA, according to the affidavit.
“No parent can imagine or prepare for losing their daughter to violence or to having their son commit such a horrible crime,” Clark’s father, Raymond Clark Jr., told Fasano.
Le, a Vietnamese-American studying for a doctorate, was from Placerville, California, according to a September 2009 Yale University statement. She graduated from the University of Rochester in New York, where she met her fiancée, Jonathan Widawsky, the university said.
“When she was alive, Annie’s tireless efforts included finding new treatments for chronic diseases, with the hope for a better human future in medicine,” her father, Hoang Le, said during the hearing.
Le’s brother, Chris Le, and two uncles also spoke during the hearing. Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for Le’s mother and Le’s estate, said after the sentencing that about 15 Le family members traveled to Connecticut to attend the sentencing. Widawsky, who was also in the courtroom, didn’t speak.
Tacopina said he’s investigating whether security lapses contributed to the incident. He declined to say whether he would file a civil lawsuit.
“While he certainly seemed remorseful, he didn’t provide any answers” as to why he killed Le, Tacopina said of Clark after the sentencing.
The case is State v. Clark, CR09-97102-T, Connecticut Superior Court (New Haven).
--With assistance from John Dillon in New Haven, Connecticut. Editors: Charles Carter, Glenn Holdcraft
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