Mug shots capture a bad moment that's usually not the best representation of their subjects.
When Steven Hayes was arrested for the 2007 slaying of the Petit family, the police photo of his shaved head, his glower and his bulging neck suggested a ticking bomb. By the time he was convicted and condemned to death last year, Hayes's frame had shrunk so much he looked in danger of being swallowed by his courtroom chair. With his hair regrown only around his lower scalp, he looked about as menacing as an accountant from central casting.
Connecticut's other high-profile murder case stayed true to his mug shot almost to the very end. When Raymond Clark III was arrested for killing Annie Le, a Yale graduate student in pharmacology, on Sept. 8, 2009, his police image was that of the kid who didn't study for the pop quiz.
He maintained that lost look at every court appearance thereafter. On June 3, New Haven Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano sentenced the 26-year-old Clark — who pleaded guilty to murder and attempted sexual assault — to 44 years in prison. While Le's family was spared a grueling trial like Hayes's, they lost something as well: an explanation. “He didn't provide any answers,” said Joseph Tacopina, an attorney representing the family.
Clark initially pleaded not guilty to strangling Le, 24, whose body was found at Yale's Animal Research Center on Amistad Street five days later on what was to be her wedding day. Thoughts that Le may have been a runaway bride were quickly dashed because she left her purse and cell phone behind. Her 89-pound body was stuffed upside down in a wall behind a toilet, covered by insulation, prosecutors said; she had been strangled and suffered a broken jaw and collarbone during a struggle.
Once Le's body was found, an already frenzied investigation at the Amistad building picked up more steam. At this point, Clark's behavior indicated that he was up well past his bedtime. He was employed in the building as a lab technician, in charge of maintaining the animals that researchers like Le used in experiments. According to court documents, he began scrubbing floors and drains that were already clean, and moved a box of wipes that contained a blood splatter — all under the noses of police officers. He then tried to make small talk with the police, thinking he could blame the cat for the scratch marks on his face and arm. Thanks to his own activities, he became their prime suspect.
It's not as if Clark hadn't tried to hide his tracks. “He changed his clothes,” Senior Assistant State's Attorney David Strollo said in court. He also tried to use an air freshener “to camouflage the smell of the decomposing body,” Strollo said. He even went so far as to try to fish evidence he dropped behind the wall with Le's body, which included a bloody sock and a green-inked pen. His failure to retrieve the pen was damning, because he signed in that day in green ink and signed out in black.
High-tech evidence quickly overwhelmed Clark's protests of innocence. Video surveillance showed him entering the building in one set of clothing and exiting in another; key-card swipes had him as the only person in the same room as Le when she was slain, and then he repeatedly entered a nearby room to hide her body. Still, he persisted while the authorities watched. While in jail, Strollo said, Clark “was reaching out to people to provide an alibi.”
As the proceedings dragged on and the walls came crashing down, his public defenders, Beth Merkin and Joseph Lopez, hammered out a deal that spared him a life sentence. He will be 70 when he's eligible for parole.
“This was a vibrant, promising young girl whose life was snuffed out,” Fasano said as he sentenced Clark. “This defendant is going to pay for his crime. He has forfeited his youth. He may well have forfeited his life.”
Clark's family stayed by his side, but his father, Raymond Jr., had the same dazed look. “This is not the Ray we know and raised,” he told the court. “We can't explain or make any sense of this.”
Tacopina said his team will investigate whether “lapses in security at Yale” contributed to her death and whether “some changes need to be made.” He declined to say that the family is filing a lawsuit at this point, but that he wanted to make sure that “Annie Le's death was not in vain.” Even Le's family disagreed in open court, though, on whether her death was a case of workplace violence.
Clark's fiancée, Jennifer Hromadka, remained with his family but wouldn't speak. But her father, Frank Hromadka, said outside the courthouse that, “It would be useless to stay engaged. She has her own life to live.”
As several of Le's family members tearfully told the court what Clark had taken away from them when he killed her, Clark's face finally morphed. He dabbed tears at the testimony, then apologized. “I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie's friends, family, and fiancé sat and waited,” he said. “I am truly, truly sorry.”
As marshals escorted him away, Clark's eyes were red and puffy from crying. The blank look was gone at last.