Former suspect in Jovin ’99 case calls for revisiting

Former Dean of Saybrook College and Yale lecturer James Van de Velde ’83, who is still the only suspect named in connection with the 1998 murder of then-senior Suzanne Jovin ’99, has brought the unsolved case back to public attention.

The New Haven Register published an account of Van de Velde’s most recent grievances Sunday, almost two months after he sent the newspaper a letter he had addressed to Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane with suggestions of possible “avenues to investigate.”

Van de Velde said in the article and in an interview with the News that he believes he is the only person pushing for a thorough investigation of the slaying by Connecticut’s Cold Case Unit.

“My goal is to get the Cold Case Unit to conduct my suggestions,” Van de Velde told the News on Sunday. “If they don’t, what are they doing? We can’t even confirm even that they’re doing anything.”

Kane said in the Register article that the investigation is ongoing.

On Dec. 4, 1998, Jovin was seen near Old Campus by one of her classmates at 9:25 p.m. About half an hour later, she was found on the ground close to the intersection of East Rock Road and Edgehill Avenue. Jovin had been stabbed 17 times in the head, neck and back. She was pronounced dead soon after.

Shortly after the slaying, the University named Van de Velde — who was Jovin’s senior thesis adviser — as a suspect in the case, which was being handled by the New Haven Police Department. Then-Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead informed Van de Velde that his spring semester classes would be cancelled and his position as a lecturer was not renewed by the University.

Though he remains the sole suspect in the case, Van de Velde has never been charged. Investigators previously revealed that specimens of blood found under Jovin’s fingernails did not match Van de Velde’s DNA.

In Dec. 2001, Van de Velde filed a lawsuit against former New Haven Chief of Police Melvin Wearing and other city police officers who were involved with the investigation. Van de Velde later revised the lawsuit to add several Yale officials in 2003, including Yale President Richard Levin, then-Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, Yale Police Chief James Perrotti and University spokesman Tom Conroy.

Van de Velde received an $80,000 settlement, in Jan. 2004, in a defamation lawsuit against Quinnipiac University, where Van de Velde was pursuing a master’s degree in broadcast journalism. Van de Veld accused the school of leaking false statements about him to the press.

In August 2006, nearly eight years after Jovin’s death, the murder case was transferred to the Cold Case Unit under the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office. Since then, the CSAO has not publicly announced any new leads in the case.

“It is being diligently investigated by the Cold Case Unit on a weekly basis,” State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said in the Register article published Sunday. “I know for a fact that this is being re-investigated by superbly qualified investigators. Guaranteed.”

Van de Velde said he sent a letter to Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane in August with a list of 12 suggestions for the Cold Case Unit. Van de Velde said Kane ignored his letter.

Kane could not be reached by phone or e-mail for comment Sunday. In the Register article, Kane said the investigation is ongoing, but does not reference the content or existence of the letter.

In the letter — which Van de Velde forwarded to the News on Sunday — Jovin urges Kane to look into further analyzing a Fresca soda bottle found at the scene of the crime, a “suspicious van” which eyewitnesses claim to have seen at the time of the crime and a piece of the knife used in the stabbing that was allegedly lodged inside Jovin’s head after the stabbing.

Van de Velde also called for various state-of-the-art forensics tests to be conducted on Jovin’s clothing.

Van de Velde told the News that he is confused that the case is not on the CSAO’s cold case Web site.

“What is their explanation for not publicizing the largest reward for a homicide in Connecticut?” Van de Velde said in reference to the $50,000 reward offered by the state, and Yale’s additional $100,000 reward offered since 2004.

Political Science Director of Undergraduate Studies David Cameron, who also served as DUS at the time of the murder, said in an e-mail he did not expect investigators to publicly release information on the case. But he said he does not take the lack of response to the letter as an indication that investigators are not addressing the case.

Kane declined comment to the Register about why the Jovin case was not listed on the Internet.

“We’re working on [the case],” Kane told the Register. “It is being investigated to the best that it can be.”

Van de Velde, who sued both Yale and the New Haven Police Department in a civil-rights lawsuit for publicly naming him as a suspect in the murder case, said he wants President Levin to take a more assertive role in the investigation. That lawsuit was dismissed in March 2004.

“He’s a defendant in one of my lawsuits,” Van de Velde said. “But I would hope that he’s concerned that this investigation is not only dead, but actively ignored.”

Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said the University remains open to helping the state in its investigation of the murder.

“We have been eager to have every avenue pursued to solve this crime since the night it occurred,” Highsmith wrote in an e-mail. “Even though Yale has no formal role, we continue to stand ready to help assist the State — as we have regularly made clear. And as the ninth anniversary of Suzanne’s death approaches, we offer our deep condolences to her family and friends.”

The Register editor who oversaw the story could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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