Clark case continues

At the hearing, Raymond Clark III was accompanied by his father, mother and fiancée; Le’s family did not attend.
At the hearing, Raymond Clark III was accompanied by his father, mother and fiancée; Le’s family did not attend. Photo by Victor Kang.

Raymond Clark III will serve 44 years in prison for the murder and sexual assault of Annie Le GRD ’13 — but the legal saga surrounding Le’s death could be far from over.

Two legal experts said the sentence, which could have stretched as long as 80 years under state guidelines, is not unexpected for a murder case like Clark’s. But while Clark is guaranteed to serve out his entire sentence — parole is not allowed for murder convictions, said David Strollo, a state prosecutor for the case — the question still remains whether the Le family will pursue civil lawsuits against Yale or other parties.

Following their daughter’s death, Le’s parents hired New York criminal defense attorney Joe Tacopina to represent the family throughout the legal process. Tacopina was present at the hearing on Thursday, where he told the New Haven Independent that the Le family will not consider filing civil suits until after Clark’s sentencing on June 3.

If the family were to sue anyone, said Raymond Kotulski, a Hartford criminal attorney not involved with the case, they would most likely file suit against Yale for providing inadequate security in the 10 Amistad St. building where Le’s body was found. As an employer and an educational facility, Kotulski said, Yale has a “duty of care” to provide for the safety and well-being of people who use its facilities.

A suit claiming Yale is at fault for Le’s death would imply that 10 Amistad St. was improperly secured despite the fact that it is only accessible to a small group of people with keycard access, he said. Because of access restrictions, the validity of such a suit is questionable, he added, but it would most likely result in an out-of-court settlement.

“I don’t know if it truly rises to a breach of Yale’s duty of care,” Kotulski said. “But [in the event of a lawsuit] Yale would most likely settle for less than the full value of the claim to avoid litigation.”

A secretary at Tacopina’s law firm said that he will not speak to any members of the press until after Clark’s sentencing.

For some, including New Haven attorney Paul Carty, the 44-year sentence comes as no surprise. Contrary to media speculation, Carty said that Clark was not a candidate for the death penalty since neither felony murder nor murder are capital offenses.

“When I had heard that [Clark] was going to change his plea [from not guilty to guilty], I said it would probably be about 45 years,” Carty said, adding that this resolution is “entirely appropriate” for a plea bargain in a murder case.

Carty explained that a plea bargain sentence is usually lower than a trial sentence because it means the defendant accepted responsibility for his actions. He added that if the prosecution was not willing to settle for a prison sentence of fewer than 60 years, he would have expected Clark’s lawyers to advise him to try his chances in court.

Even so, Kotulski said that 44 years was a lighter sentence than he expected.

“I thought the sentence was going to be higher, probably more like 50 years,” Kotulski said. “But I would imagine that the prosecutors went more lenient to save the [Le] family the heartache of a trial.

A murder case always requires a minimum of two to three years of preliminary motions before a criminal trial begins, Kotulski said, adding that the families of murder victims often seek closure and try to avoid prolonged trials that may force them to relive the details of a killing.

Although the Le family was not present at the New Haven court on Thursday to hear Clark’s guilty plea, Strollo said after the hearing the prosecution considered the family’s opinions when deciding whether to accept a deal with Clark.

During the hearing, Strollo said that Le’s parents were satisfied with the recommended sentence, but added that other family members expected a harsher punishment. Kotulski said that this difference of opinion is normal. Because the prosecution went ahead with the plea bargain, he added, a sufficient number of relatives must have accepted the agreement.

Before Clark changed his plea, Beth Merkin, one of Clark’s two defense attorneys, said that nearly 95 percent of all criminal trials in Connecticut are resolved by a plea bargain instead of a trial.

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