- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

UPDATED:

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Yale University graduate student whose body was found hidden in a wall in her lab building was asphyxiated, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner said Wednesday, hours after a “person of interest” was questioned and released.

Dr. Wayne Carver’s office released the results three days after the body of 24-year-old Annie Le was found in a Yale medical school research building. Dr. Carver previously had announced Miss Le’s death as a homicide.

The office said her death was caused by “traumatic asphyxia due to neck compression.” The cause could include a choke hold or some other form of pressure-induced asphyxiation caused by a hand or an object, such as a pipe, though authorities are not releasing details on the manner of Miss Le’s death.

Earlier Wednesday, police released a Yale animal research technician from custody after collecting DNA samples and questioning him in Miss Le’s killing. Raymond Clark III was taken into custody Tuesday night at his apartment in Middletown, Conn., and was released to his attorney, New Haven police said.

The attorney, David Dworski of Fairfield, said his client is “committed to proceeding appropriately with the authorities.” He would not comment further.

Investigators are hoping to figure out within days whether Mr. Clark can be ruled out as the killer. He has been described as a person of interest, not a suspect, in Miss Le’s death. Her body was found Sunday, which was to have been her wedding day.

Mr. Clark and his fiancee, Jennifer Hromadka, were both animal research technicians in the lab where Miss Le worked.

Miss Hromadka wrote on her MySpace page that she’s not perfect, but cautioned people not to judge her.

“Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be, but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean!!” the 23-year-old Miss Hromadka wrote.

The date of the MySpace posting is unclear. The page has since been taken down.

Overnight, state police officers sorted through items on a card table set up outside the door of Mr. Clark’s ground-floor apartment.

A tow truck took away a red Ford Mustang that neighbors said Mr. Clark used.

A resident of the complex, Rick Tarallo, said he, his wife and their 6-month-old daughter live in a unit next to Mr. Clark and Miss Hromadka, his fiancee.

The couple were “really quiet” and lived with an older man, who he speculated was the father of one of them, he said.

“He seemed like a good guy,” Mr. Tarallo said of Mr. Clark. “They didn’t strike me as someone who would try to kill somebody.”

Police started tearing down the yellow crime scene tape as daylight broke Wednesday. Neighbors said they hadn’t seen Miss Hromadka in the area for days.

Loraine Falcon, 32, a nurse’s aide who lives in Mr. Clark’s building, said the police activity kept her and her three kids — ages 15, 10 and 8 — up much of the night and left her fearful for their safety.

“I just want to know if he did it,” Ms. Falcon said.

Mr. Clark’s apartment appeared empty Wednesday morning after police left. No one answered the door.

New Haven Police Chief James Lewis said police were hoping to compare DNA taken from Mr. Clark’s hair, fingernails and saliva with more than 150 pieces of evidence collected from the crime scene. That evidence may also be compared at a state lab with DNA samples given voluntarily from other people with access to the crime scene.

“We’re going to narrow this down,” Chief Lewis said. “We’re going to do this as quickly as we can.”

Dr. Henry Lee, a nationally known forensic scientist and former director of Connecticut’s crime laboratory, said the cause of Miss Le’s death was “external force applied to the neck,” but may not necessarily mean someone strangled her.

“It could be any heavy object,” he told the Associated Press. “It could be a hand; it could be anything.”

Police have collected more than 700 hours of videotape and sifted through computer records documenting who entered what parts of the research building where Miss Le was found dead.

She worked for a Yale laboratory that conducted experiments on mice, and investigators found her body stuffed in the basement wall of a facility that houses research animals.

In addition to Mr. Clark and Miss Hromadka, Mr. Clark’s sister and brother-in-law also were technicians at Yale’s Animal Resources Center, according to Yale records.

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