The unsolved 19-year-old murder of Yale student Suzanne Jovin is getting renewed attention by Connecticut law enforcement, with an assistant state’s attorney spending eight hours a week with a team of detectives working to solve the high-profile case.
Details of the efforts are contained in a Freedom of Information hearing officer’s ruling that the New Haven police file should not be released. In testimony before the hearing officer, Assistant State’s Attorney Marcia Pillsbury revealed that she is working on the case and that a resolution is possible.
Sources familiar with the case said investigators have taken several steps including:
- Resubmitting Jovin’s clothing to the state forensic laboratory to do new DNA testing called touch DNA on the inside of the sleeves of her shirt and other clothing in hopes her assailant may have brushed against her during the murder.
- Bringing in the FBI to work on the case, although it is unclear what federal authorities are doing.
- Traveling across the country to re-interview some witnesses from the original investigation as well as classmates of Jovin who had not been interviewed before.
- Hiring a hypnotist to interview a key witness who may have seen Jovin walking only minutes before she was murdered.
Two New York City documentary filmmakers had submitted the FOI request to New Haven Police and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane’s office seeking access to the Jovin file. Pillsbury testified at the hearing to explain the case is not dormant and that releasing the files now could hinder the probe.
FOI hearing officer Lisa Fein Siegel denied the request to release the files based on Pillsbury’s assertions and the testimony of New Haven police officers and the state’s lead forensic science examiner. Siegel ruled that “a prospective law enforcement action is a reasonable possibility.”
“It is found that witnesses continue to be interviewed, evidence examined, and ever more precise DNA testing continues to be focus of the investigation,” Siegel wrote. the full state Freedom of Information Commission will vote on Siegel’s ruling Wednesday.
Pillsbury testified for more than an hour but refused to provide any relevant details of the case past they are working on it. She wouldn’t answer questions about how many investigators are working on the case, wouldn’t say whether she has interviewed any witnesses and wouldn’t answer whether she thought there’d be a prosecution within the next six months.
On Dec. 4, 1998, Jovin, 21, was discovered face down with 17 stab wounds in her back and head near the corner of Edgehill and East Rock roads by a doctor out for a walk who heard her screams and ran to her assistance.
She was stabbed so hard the tip of the knife was embedded in her skull. The knife used in the murder has never been recovered. Investigators believe Jovin was killed shortly before 10 p.m.
Jovin was last seen walking out of Phelps Gate on the Yale campus at about 9:25 p.m. after she had dropped off a key to a van she had borrowed for a dinner involving the Best Buddies group where she volunteered.
About 10 minutes later, "multiple" witnesses said they heard a couple arguing in front of the apartment building at 750 Whitney Ave., and later in back of it, although it is unclear if that was Jovin. Witnesses reported hearing more arguing and then screams at the intersection of East Rock and Edgehill roads.
Days after the slaying, New Haven police leaked to the local newspaper that James Van de Velde, one of Jovin's professors and her senior thesis adviser, was in a "pool of suspects."
Yale University eventually canceled Van de Velde's classes and declined to bring him back as a professor. Van de Velde has maintained his innocence and has been highly critical of the New Haven Police Department investigation and of Yale.
He filed a lawsuit against New Haven police and Yale which were settled in 2013. Van de Velde, who after the settlement began teaching at Johns Hopkins University, received at least $200,000.
For years, police believed that DNA found under Jovin’s fingernails belonged to her killer. It was more than 11 years after the homicide that the forensic laboratory determined the sample was contaminated and that the DNA actually belonged to the lab worker who had initially worked on the case.
At one point prosecutors allowed two private investigators hired by Yale access to the file so they could do their own private investigation.
Subsequently, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane hired four retired state police detectives to re-investigate the case. The retired detectives found a witness who said she saw a man running from the direction of the crime scene around the time of the slaying.
The woman told investigators the man had "blondish hair, chiseled features and was wearing dark clothes and a loose-fitting green-colored jacket.." The state hired a forensic artist to draw a sketch of the man and police distributed a flier with that sketch throughout the neighborhood and to Yale alumni groups hoping for a match.
The team of retired detectives were disbanded more than a year ago by Kane.