New team looks into Jovin death

A team of four retired Connecticut State Police detectives has been investigating the Dec. 1998 murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99 for the past seven months, Assistant State’s Attorney James G. Clark announced Friday.

The Jovin Investigation Team, which was formed in June by State’s Attorney Michael Dearington but not made public until Friday, plans to “approach the case as if it were brand new,” Clark said. In addition to considering existing evidence, the team will also look for new information about the case, he said.

Clark said the team will make “no assumptions” about the murder or those involved, including suspects previously investigated by the police.

“No person is a suspect in the crime, and everyone is a suspect in the crime,” he said.

As a result of the team’s blank-slate approach, former political science professor James Van de Velde ’82 — Jovin’s senior-thesis advisor and the only person ever named by New Haven Police Department investigators as a suspect in the case — is no longer an official suspect. The NHPD had previously never retracted his status as a suspect.

This marks the second time outside investigators have been assigned to the Jovin murder case. In 2000, the University hired former New York City police officers Patrick Harnett and Andrew Rosenzweig to investigate the slaying, and Dearington allowed the two men access to case files.

Jovin was found on the ground near the intersection of East Rock Road and Edgehill Avenue on the evening of Dec. 4, 1998. Classmates reported spotting Jovin — who was found with 17 stab wounds in her head, neck and back — on Old Campus roughly half an hour before she was discovered. Jovin was pronounced dead soon after.

When asked why the formation of the team was not unveiled until Friday, investigation leader John Mannion said simply that the State’s Attorney’s Office had put serious consideration into the timing of the announcement and that it thought now was an “appropriate” time to reveal the new team.

Clark declined to answer detailed questions about the investigation.

In 2001, Van de Velde filed a defamation lawsuit against the University and the city of New Haven for unfairly leaking his name as a prime suspect in the homicide. The Federal portion of his lawsuit was dismissed by a United States District Court in 2004, but Van de Velde said in November that the judge’s ruling was “so incomprehensible” that he has since filed a motion to reconsider.

“I am delighted to hear State Attorneys Dearington and Clark admit after nine years that I’m not a suspect in this crime,” Van de Velde said in an e-mail. “We will present this statement to the judge ruling on my lawsuit against Yale and the City to show that both wrongly and foolishly labeled me and caused irreparable damage to my reputation and career — not to mention to the investigation.”

Van de Velde has criticized the University — and University President Richard Levin, who is a defendant in Van de Velde’s lawsuit, in particular — for botching the investigation at its outset and failing to take a more proactive role in solving the case.

“We continue to think of Suzanne’s family and their great loss,” Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said in an e-mail. “While nothing can undo that, we join them in hoping that this renewed investigation can yield information that will solve this tragic case.”

Before the Jovin Investigation Team began its work in June, the state’s Cold Case Unit had been in charge of the case since 2006, when it took over from the NHPD.

Van de Velde has said he should be exonerated from suspect status because DNA evidence, scraped from underneath Jovin’s fingernails, did not match samples he provided to the police in 2001. Clark said the team will not make a determination about whether the DNA evidence is related to the murder until it is linked to an individual.

Van de Velde said Sunday he is glad that police have recommitted to resolving the case.

“I am also pleased that the state agrees it is time to make a fresh start in finding Suzanne Jovin’s killer, though I believe the city and Yale’s initial actions hurt these efforts perhaps irreparably,” Van de Velde said in an e-mail.

Mannion has been with the State Police for 21 years, including five as the commanding officer of the Central Major Crimes Unit. Patrick Gaffney, who has worked as a detective and sergeant in the CMCU for 15 years; Richard Wardell, who has 12 years of detective experience and 22 years in law enforcement; and Joseph Sudol, a former detective for the Central Major Crime Squad, will aid in the investigation, according to a press release issued by the team.

The four officers will be paid one dollar a year for their work, according to the press release.

“It would be next to impossible to assemble a group more capable of investigating this terrible crime, even if the state had unlimited funds,” Clark said.

The team will operate independently of other law-enforcement agencies and will report to Clark. Team members will have access to the resources of the NHPD, Yale Police Department, State Police Department, FBI and State’s Attorney’s Office, Clark said.

There is $150,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jovin’s murderer. The state offered a $50,000 reward in March 1999, and the University committed an extra $100,000 two years later.

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