Eighteen months after his arrest, Raymond Clark III has admitted that he murdered Annie Le GRD ’13.

Clark, who worked as a lab technician at 10 Amistad St., the same Yale building where Le worked, pleaded guilty in New Haven Superior Court on Thursday to both murder and attempt to commit sexual assault in exchange for a 44-year prison sentence. The sexual assault charge reveals for the first time a possible motive for the killing. Yale administrators previously described the murder as the result of “workplace violence” against Le, who went missing Sept. 8, 2009, just days before she was to marry. Police found her body inside a wall at 10 Amistad St. nearly one week later, and later concluded that she was strangled.

At the hearing, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano revealed that Clark is eligible for a sentence of 25 to 80 years in prison under Connecticut sentencing guidelines. The parties agreed to a 44-year prison sentence as part of the plea.

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Individuals serving time for murder in Connecticut are not eligible for parole, said co-prosecutor David Strollo in a post-hearing interview Thursday. Clark, who is 26, will spend a full 44 years in prison and will not be eligible for parole before that. Upon his release from prison, Clark will be about 70.

Yale’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications released a statement following the hearing, expressing relief that Le’s family did not have endure a trial.

“We hope today’s guilty plea and the sentence that will follow will help bring closure to them and to all in the Yale community who suffered by her senseless killing,” the release said.

Clark was originally charged with both felony murder and murder, to which he pleaded not guilty. Clark would have faced the same maximum prison sentence of 60 years for the killing if he were convicted of either felony murder or murder. He would have faced an additional maximum sentence of 20 years for the sexual assault charge.

“Given the nature of the evidence that the state had, I think 44 years was his best option,” said Beth Merkin, one of Clark’s defense attorneys. “I think, had he gone to trial, we would have seen a much worse outcome.”

Clark pleaded guilty to the charge of attempt to commit sexual assault under the Alford Doctrine, which allows a defendant to acknowledge that the state has enough evidence for a conviction should the case go to trial and plead guilty without admitting guilt.

“Sexual assault was always part of the evidence, and we were aware that the state would have added that charge — maybe some other charges as well,” Merkin said.

Clark, who wore a blue button-down shirt and black pants, winked at his family as he entered the courtroom and did not speak except to plead guilty and answer “yes” and “no” to the judge’s questions.

As part of the guilty plea process, Strollo was required to list charge-substantiating details, including extensive DNA, keycard, finger print and video evidence, on the record. Although some of the information was previously listed in public police reports — including that a bloody sock bearing both Clark and Le’s DNA found in a ceiling at 10 Amistad St. — some were made public for the first time.

Strollo revealed that Le’s body was found upside down, partially decomposed inside a wall in a basement locker room, with a broken jaw and collarbone. Medical examiners found that she sustained those injuries while she was still alive. Le’s bra was pushed up and her panties were found around her ankles, Strollo said. Seminal fluid was also found on her panty liner, but the sample was not large enough to test for a DNA match with Clark. Other semen found on the scene matched Clark’s, he added.

Strollo also said that Clark tried to cover up the crime by attempting to pull evidence from the wall using fishing line. Clark scrubbed a drain clean and used air freshener in an attempt to conceal the odor of the decomposing body, Strollo said. He also claimed that police found notes to co-workers in Clark’s sock that indicate he was trying to fabricate an alibi, but Clark’s attorneys disputed that claim at the hearing.

Le’s family was not present at the hearing, but Strollo said they planned to attend Clark’s sentencing. Joe Tacopina, the attorney for Le’s parents, told the Associated Press that Le’s mother did not attend the hearing because listening to details of the crime would have been too painful.

“Our office has been in constant contact with a number of members of the Le family,” co-prosecutor John Waddock told the News after the hearing.

Strollo said that Le’s parents were satisfied with the recommended sentence, but other family members thought Clark deserved more time. The Le family will have an opportunity to address the public at Clark’s sentencing, Waddock said, adding that the purpose of this address is to “personalize what has occurred.” The Le family has not indicated if they plan to file a civil suit against Yale or any other parties as a result of the murder.

Clark’s father, mother and fiancée, Jennifer Hromadka, who still works for Yale, were present in the courtroom. After the hearing, Clark’s father, Raymond Clark II, read a statement to the press outside the courthouse.

“My family and I extend our deepest sympathy to the Le family,” he said. “I want you to know that Ray has expressed extreme remorse from the beginning. I can’t tell you how many times he sobbed uncontrollably, telling me how sorry he is.”

“Our hearts are broken,” he continued. “It doesn’t make any sense to us. This is not the Ray we know.”

Clark previously pleaded not guilty in January 2010. His final sentence will be announced at a court date tentatively scheduled for June 3, but Merkin said Clark will definitely receive the recommended sentence of 44 years.

Past coverage:

Bloody clothes, DNA led to Clark’s arrest

Clothes, DNA led to Clark arrest