In an effort to induce witnesses to come forward, Yale has added $100,000 of its own money to the $50,000 state reward previously offered for information pertaining to the 1998 murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99.
New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing and State’s Attorney Michael Dearington announced the increase to the reward at a press conference Tuesday, but released little new information about the case other than the existence of a light brown or tan van witnesses saw near the crime scene at the corner of East Rock and Edgehill roads on the night of the murder.
“It is believed that there are individuals who have unreported information that may aid in this investigation,” Dearington said.
Yale President Richard Levin said Tuesday night that University officials initially thought about posting a reward two years ago but decided against it. They offered the increase to the state reward Tuesday after investigators requested it.
“I wouldn’t want to second guess the investigators,” he said. “They asked us to do this and they feel there’s a good reason to do this at this point.”
Although Yale is fronting the new reward money, the only University representative present at the announcement was Yale Police Chief James Perrotti, who did not speak and declined to answer questions.
“Perrotti represents law enforcement here,” Levin said. “He seemed like an obvious person for that announcement.”
The reward was posted on Old Campus bulletin boards during the day Tuesday, but not in several other areas.
Ellen Jovin, Suzanne’s older sister, made an impassioned plea for anyone with information to report it to police “even if it seems trivial, and even if it seems irrelevant.”
“Every day we grieve for Suzanne,” Jovin said. “Every day we miss her, and every day we know we have with us the knowledge of the terrible way in which she died.”
Wearing and Dearington said the reward is an attempt by police to boost an investigation that has produced few leads and no arrests.
“There is nothing new we can hang our hat on,” Wearing said.
Wearing said James Van de Velde ’82, whom Yale officials first named as a suspect in January 1999, is still in a pool of suspects consisting of several people who “could have had the opportunity” to commit the crime.
“We just weren’t able to eliminate him from the process,” Wearing said. “There are extenuating circumstances that make him a suspect in this case.”
Wearing said Van de Velde originally became a suspect because the “facts and circumstances led detectives to suspect him.”
In addition to maintaining his innocence, Van de Velde has previously called for Yale to increase the reward and for officials to further publicize it. He criticized the police investigation and his continued status as a suspect Tuesday night.
“In New Haven, first individuals are named suspects by the University and police working in concert, then the investigation is conducted, then 28 months later the public is asked for help in locating a vehicle,” Van de Velde said. “The case was originally handed to imbeciles or worse, and is now supervised by enablers of misconduct — all at the expense of keeping a murderer free.”
The original detectives who supervised the investigation, Capt. Brian Sullivan and Sgt. Edward Kendall, retired recently rather than face internal ethics charges relating to another murder case in which they were alleged to have hidden evidence. Sullivan still faces criminal charges of hindering an investigation and tampering with evidence.
In addition to the reward, Wearing announced the creation of a new NHPD hotline, 1-866-888-TIPS. He encouraged anyone with information about the Jovin case or any other crime to call the number.
Wearing did not offer further information about the brown van, other than to say its driver may have seen something that would aid in the investigation.
Jovin was last seen walking north on College Street at about 9:25 p.m. Dec. 4, 1998, shortly after she dropped off the keys to a University car at Phelps Gate. Her body was found shortly before 10 p.m. that night at the corner of East Rock and Edgehill roads, about two miles north of campus, and police say she could not have walked that far in so short a time.
By Connecticut law, the governor may offer a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to an arrest in a felony, and Gov. John Rowland did so in late March 1999. New Haven police posted fliers around Old Campus the next month.
But the original reward has had no takers, so Yale upped the ante Tuesday.
Ellen Jovin said she did not know if the higher reward would increase the chances of finding her sister’s killer.
“It’s hard,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”