Letter: Be careful when labeling suspects

It is a good guess that the News will take note of the 10th anniversary of the still-unsolved Jovin slaying. What I would like to see today or in the near future is a powerful editorial stand by the paper asking why President Levin and the other figures at the top of the Yale hierarchy still refuse to acknowledge the great wrong done to James Van de Velde, and why they still will not act to put things right.

I had my say in the News as a guest columnist last Jan. 17 in a piece titled, “Van de Velde’s innocence ignored by Yale’s higher-ups” — so I feel this matter is now more in your hands than in mine. In any event, a commitment by the News to forcing the issue would be more effective than anything I might do.

I am writing to you in part because at least two of your recent stories on Dean Mary Miller identified Van de Velde ’82 as “a suspect in the murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99.”

Yet the New Haven state’s attorney, as I said in my column in January, announced a year ago that no one — and everyone — is a suspect in the crime.

Please be mindful that the national publicity about Van de Velde as a “person of interest” was enormous at the time he was thrown overboard by Yale. The reputations of other famous persons of interest — Richard Jewell (who did not bomb the Atlanta Olympics), Steven Hatfill (who was not the anthrax terrorist), John and Patsy Ramsey (who did not murder their little daughter) — have been salvaged, but not Van de Velde’s.

In my Hartford Courant magazine Dec. 4, 2005, article “Pride & Prejudice in New Haven,” I told of Kingman Brewster, the most famous Yale president of modern times, and the words surrounding his grave, so very close to the campus: “The presumption of innocence is not just a legal concept. In commonplace terms, it rests on that generosity of spirit which assumes the best, not the worst of a stranger.”

Van de Velde, of course, was no stranger to Yale when he was turned into a pariah by administrators responsible for the greatest moral lapse in the University’s history. You might ask yourselves, “What would Kingman Brewster do?”

Donald S. Connery

The writer is a journalist and the author of “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.”

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