A former animal research technician pleaded guilty Thursday to killing a Yale University graduate student days before her 2009 wedding, and prosecutors revealed that he left behind evidence of a sexual assault and desperately tried to cover his tracks.
Raymond Clark III pleaded guilty to murder and entered an Alford plea to attempted sexual assault of 24-year-old Annie Le under an agreement with prosecutors that calls for a 44-year sentence. Under Connecticut's Alford doctrine, the defendant agrees that the state has enough evidence to likely get a conviction and a guilty finding is entered on the record.
The sex charge and related DNA evidence offered the first official revelation of a potential motive in the case.
"We believed all along that was the motivation," said Joe Tacopina, attorney for the victim's parents.
Clark, 26, was accused of strangling Le, of Placerville, Calif. Her body was found upside down stuffed behind a research lab wall on Sept. 13, 2009, five days after she was last seen inside the Yale medical building. It would have been her wedding day in New York.
Prosecutor David Strollo said there was evidence that Clark tried after the killing to generate an alibi, scrub the crime scene and even fish evidence out from behind the wall.
Clark appeared happy in surveillance video taken before the killing, but later he was alone with his face in his hands at a time authorities believe was after the killing, Strollo said.
Strollo said Thursday that Le had a broken collar bone and jaw, injuries suffered while she was alive, and that her underwear had been disarranged. He noted that the victim was 4 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 89 pounds, while Clark was 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds.
He also cited DNA evidence including Clark's semen and a green-ink pen under Le's body that had her blood and Clark's DNA. Police have said Clark signed into the secure building with a green pen the day Le disappeared. DNA from Le and Clark also was on a bloody sock found hidden in a ceiling.
Court papers describe a bloody crime scene and Clark's efforts to scrub floors. Investigators say Clark tried to hide a box of cleaning wipes that later was found to have traces of Le's blood.
Clark had a scratch on his face and left arm that he said came from a cat, investigators said.
Investigators found two notes in Clark's sock after he was arrested in which he had reached out to co-workers to provide an alibi for him, Strollo said. He also said they found a backpack with Clark's DNA that contained fishing line and a lure that authorities believe he intended to use to try to retrieve the pen in the wall.
Investigators also believe an air freshener was used to hide the smell of the body, Strollo said. An air freshener cover was found near the ceiling and Clark's fingerprints were on the canister's cover, he said.
The victim's body was moved to various rooms before it was placed in the wall, Strollo said.
Clark previously had been charged with murder and felony murder, each carrying a possible sentence of 25 to 60 years. He appeared in court Thursday with his fiancee and father seated nearby.
His father, Raymond Clark Jr., said outside of court that his son has repeatedly expressed remorse and has sobbed uncontrollably over the crime. Raymond Clark Jr. says he's proud of his son for taking responsibility for his actions and that his son has told him "his heart is tortured by the reality that he caused the death."
Sentencing was scheduled for May 20.
Le was a doctoral pharmacology student who worked on a team that experimented on mice as part of research into enzymes that could have implications for treatment of cancer, diabetes and muscular dystrophy.
At her memorial service, family and friends remembered for her academic success, sense of humor, ambition, love for shoe-shopping and love for her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky.
Tacopina said the family is satisfied with the plea deal. He says Le's mother did not attend the hearing because it would be too painful.
"Every day has been a tough day," Tacopina said. "It's a tough day because there's been a public acknowledgement that somebody murdered and attempted to sexually assault this poor young sweet girl for no reason."