Yale lab technician Raymond Clark III pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the murder of Annie Le GRD ’13.
At the 10-minute hearing in New Haven Superior Court, the prosecution introduced a new charge against Clark, in addition to the original charge of murder. The new charge, felony murder, would allow a jury to convict Clark of killing Le even if the death occurred unintentionally in the process of committing another felony, such as kidnapping or rape.
Also at the hearing, Judge Roland Fasano said the remaining search and seizure warrants that are still under seal will be discussed at the next pre-trial hearing, scheduled for March 3.
Clark spoke only a few words Tuesday, waiving his right to a probable-cause hearing, in which the prosecutors would have needed to prove they had enough evidence for the two charges.
Beth Merkin, one of Clark’s two public defenders, said the additional charge of felony murder allows the prosecution to construct a number of possible scenarios in which Clark could have caused Le’s death.
“In any hypothetical homicide, felony murder ensures the prosecution won’t get boxed-in,” she said. “It provides for alternate theories to be made about the crime.”
State prosecutor John Waddock declined to comment, and the prosecution has yet to name a motive in Le’s slaying.
Jack Ford ’72, a prominent legal commentator and retired trial lawyer, said the decision to plead not guilty does not preclude Clark from later pleading guilty and seeking a plea a bargain at some point during the trial process.
Ford, who is also teaching the Branford College seminar “Trials of the 20th Century” this semester, said both the felony murder and original murder charge allow for the possibility of a lifetime prison sentence.
Also during the hearing, Fasano allowed for the return of a vehicle owned by Clark’s mother, Diane Clark, provided that the prosecution still has the opportunity to submit the car as secondary evidence should they need it during a trial. Just before 4 p.m. on Sept. 8, Clark left 10 Amistad St., where Le’s body was found, before entering his mother’s car, a 1999 red Ford Taurus; police later searched the car and found bloodstained evidence, according to court documents released in November.
“We have confirmed that the police have found nothing of evidentiary value in the car,” Merkin said.
New Haven Police Department spokesman Joe Avery declined to comment because Le’s murder is still an ongoing investigation.
With regard to the court documents that remain sealed, Merkin said she is confident some new information will be released at the next pre-trial hearing in March. She added, however, that she expects any information already redacted in the materials, originally released in November, will remain unavailable to the public, as will any content related to the redactions.
On Nov. 6, Fasano ruled that releasing the redacted court records would not interfere with Clark’s right to a fair trial. Although the defense lawyers had argued that the information would taint the pool of potential jurors, Fasano said the high level of publicity already surrounding the case makes juror bias unlikely. But to protect Clark’s right to a fair trial, the judge excluded pieces of the documents that he considers inflammatory, unfairly prejudicial or invasive of privacy.
One of the defense’s worries with the release of the remaining sealed documents is that the details contained in them may affect the defense’s ability to select an unbiased jury if Clark’s case goes to trial, Merkin said.
But in the actual legal proceedings, Ford said, the defense should not be so preoccupied with keeping certain information from a potential jury pool.
“[Media attention] is definitely one of the major difficulties of high profile trials,” Ford said. “But potential jurors aren’t disqualified because they know all of the gruesome details. It matters only that they haven’t made up their mind if Clark is guilty or not.”
Police arrested Clark on Sept. 17, and he is currently being held on a $3 million bond the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Conn.