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Yale student died from traumatic asphyxiation, medical examiner says

Police in New Haven, Conn., collect DNA samples from Raymond Clark III, who has been called a 'person of interest' in the death of Annie Le.

September 17, 2009|Dave Altimari, Alaine Griffin and Josh Kovner

NEW HAVEN, CONN. — Computer records show that lab technician Raymond Clark III, a "person of interest" in the slaying of Yale University graduate student Annie Le, was the last person to see her alive, a law enforcement source told the Hartford Courant on Wednesday.

Investigators traced Le's and Clark's movements through their computerized entry cards, said the source, who is familiar with the investigation.

Le entered the Yale laboratory about 10 a.m. on Sept. 8. She passed through a basement area moments later. Then she entered a separate room of the lab.

Clark, 24, entered the same room a short time later, the source said, citing the computer records. Le was never seen again, and her card was never used again.

Clark had moved around the laboratory area quite a bit that day, including entering rooms that he normally would not be expected to enter, the source said.

Clark also used his card to go to another area, the place where Le's body was found Sunday -- the day she was to have been married -- stuffed into a 2-foot crawl space behind a wall.

The pattern of movements captured by the computer records are the reason authorities focused almost immediately on Clark, the source said. He took care of the research animals, primarily rodents, according to Yale's website.

Connecticut's chief medical examiner ruled Wednesday that Le, 24, of Placerville, Calif., died of traumatic asphyxiation by neck compression, meaning that she was strangled or suffocated.

When Clark was initially interviewed by federal agents shortly after Le was reported missing, he acknowledged seeing her in the laboratory, the source said.

He then was asked to take a polygraph test, which he failed, sources said.

Federal authorities also gave polygraph tests to anyone who had access to the laboratories, including Clark's girlfriend, Jennifer Hromadka, who is also a lab technician. She passed her polygraph test, the source said.

Le's devastated family, speaking through a pastor, expressed gratitude to the law enforcement agencies and the Yale community, including a Vietnamese student association, for their response to the tragedy. Le had been pursuing a joint doctoral and medical degree.

Clark, who was taken into custody Tuesday night, was released Wednesday after giving a DNA sample.

Investigators will compare it to 150 items of evidence found in and around Le's makeshift tomb in the wall of the laboratory basement.

Now, investigators await the DNA test results, which Police Chief James Lewis said could lead to an arrest.

"It's all up to the lab now," Lewis said during a Wednesday evening news conference.

Police already have served four search warrants in the case, three for evidence at Clark's Middletown, Conn., apartment and for his car. Those search warrants have been sealed from public view, prosecutors said.

Although Clark was cooperative while in custody, the police chief said Clark had invoked his right not to speak with investigators.

His attorney, David H. Dworski, declined to answer questions about his client but said, "We're committed to proceeding appropriately with the authorities, with whom we are in regular communication."

The public defender's office in New Haven, which traditionally does not get involved in criminal cases until arrests are made, is also consulting on the case, sources said.

Lewis said that investigators think Le was killed by a single attacker, but that they were investigating and keeping surveillance on more than one person.

He said he didn't want investigators to be accused of having "tunnel vision."

"The issue for us now is to bring justice to Annie Le's family," the chief said.

Meantime, law officers and the media are delving into Clark's life.

He graduated from high school in Connecticut in 2004, and belonged to three clubs, according to his yearbook: one that focused on Asian culture, another that drew attention to the plight of the homeless, and a third that stressed charity.

In the group picture of the Asian Awareness Club, he is standing, bespectacled, his hair short and combed back, next to a female Asian student. The group cooked authentic Asian dinners and, on Jan. 22, 2004, attended Chinese New Year festivities in New York.

Homicide investigators have obtained a police report indicating that Clark's former girlfriend in high school had trouble with him after she ended their relationship.

She went to police with her concerns. Clark was not charged and has no criminal history.

Clark moved from New Haven to Middletown six months ago. He shared an apartment with Hromadka and three cats, according to former neighbor Taylor Goodwin, 16.

Le was to have been married Sunday in Syosset, N.Y., to Jonathan Widawsky, a graduate student at Columbia University in New York. Police have said that he is not a suspect and is helping with the investigation.

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