Nine days after Annie Le GRD ’13 was murdered on Sept. 8, 2009, police charged Raymond Clark III with the crime. But in the year since, the case has dallied in legal proceedings and is still a long way from going to trial, if it ever does.
Clark pleaded not guilty in January, and his lawyers are still reviewing and waiting for all the prosecution’s evidence — including hundreds of DNA analysis documents that need to be laboriously compiled by a state lab — to be presented to them before they plan their next move; in the meantime, they’re working on other cases.
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The sluggish pace shows what happens when a murder case, even one as high-profile as Le’s, fades into a slow and underfunded state court system.
“Years and years of this [underfunding] has created a kind of cumulative ennui where people are in less of a hurry,” said Jeffrey Meyer ’85 LAW ’89, a former federal prosecutor who is now a clinical visiting professor at Yale Law School and a full-time Quinnipiac law professor.
Beth Merkin, one of Clark’s two public defenders, said the case has been delayed because the defense is still waiting for the Connecticut State Police forensics lab in Meriden, Conn., to turn over all appropriate documents related to their analysis of the DNA evidence in the case. Merkin called the amount of material to be turned over “unprecedented.”
“It’s like any other case, but the evidence is of such a volume that it’s just taking longer,” she said.
The lab has already done the work of examining the evidence and provided summaries of some of their findings, but Merkin said the defense wants to see the raw data for itself before judging the lab’s conclusions. Merkin estimated that there are more than 100 pieces of evidence, each of which often involves anywhere from 10 to 30 pages of field notes, photographs and computer readouts. Every page has to be compiled, organized and sent to the defense as part of the discovery phase of trial, when the defendant has the right to review all evidence that could be presented against him in court.
“It’s very, very burdensome for the lab,” she said. “They’ve been very cooperative, but they’re understaffed and overworked.”
Merkin said the discovery process could take as much as six more months or even a year, though she added that those were only guesses. Merkin said criminal cases are resolved by a plea bargain or a trial, neither of which can happen until the discovery phase is concluded. In the meantime, she said she has moved on to other cases, though she and Joseph Lopez, Clark’s other public defender, continue to meet regularly with their client.
New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said prosecutors would not set up dates for a potential trial until all pre-trial procedures have been completed. Assistant State’s Attorney John Waddock, one of two prosecutors directly handling the case, declined to comment.
According to court documents, police found a number of pieces of evidence, both DNA and physical, that investigators said linked Clark to the crime. Prosecutors allege that Clark strangled Le to death in the building’s basement and hid her body behind a wall. Among the evidence was an extra-large lab coat with blood stains, with DNA that matched Le and an unknown male; a blood-stained rubber glove Le had worn; and Le’s white athletic sock, hidden in a ceiling, with blood and hair containing both her and Clark’s DNA. Keycard records also placed Clark and Le in the same room in the building at some point that day.
Meyer said he is not surprised by the sluggish pace of the case.
“It’s not out of the ordinary, but not ideal,” he said.
Yale Law professor Steven Duke, who specializes in criminal law, also said he does not think the delay is unusual for Connecticut, where cases often drag on for years.
When the discovery process does conclude, Merkin said the defense will still have to examine the evidence thoroughly and possibly hire its own experts to look at the data. When the defense is confident it has seen all state evidence, the case can proceed.
“A complex case where there’s a death — no defense lawyer should rush into that,” Merkin said.
Clark is being held at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Conn., on $3 million bond.