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Medical examiner says Yale student was suffocated

A Yale graduate student found stuffed in the wall of a research center had been suffocated, the medical examiner reported as police awaited DNA tests on evidence taken from a lab technician who worked in the building.

Police call Raymond Clark III a "person of interest" in the slaying of Annie Le. Authorities hoped to compare DNA taken from Clark's hair, fingernails and saliva with more than 250 pieces of evidence collected at the crime scene on the Ivy League campus in New Haven, Connecticut, and from Clark's Middletown, Connecticut, apartment.

"It's all up to the lab now," Police Chief James Lewis said yesterday at a news conference. "The basis of the investigation now is really on the physical evidence."

Police late Wednesday were watching a hotel room in Cromwell where a "person of interest" in the killing had been staying, Cromwell Police Capt. Roy Nelson said. Broadcast reports said Clark was staying at the hotel.

Police served two search warrants - for DNA from Clark and for items in his apartment - late Tuesday. They served two more Wednesday morning, for more items from the apartment and for Clark's Ford Mustang, Lewis said.

Investigators said they expect to determine within days whether Clark should be charged in the killing. He was escorted in handcuffs from his apartment and released early Wednesday into the custody of his attorney, police said.

Lewis said police expect to seek an arrest warrant for anyone whose DNA matches evidence at the crime scene.

Officer Joe Avery, a spokesman for New Haven police, told The Associated Press early Thursday that Clark was not in custody and police did not have a warrant for his arrest.

Clark is not talking to police, Lewis said.

"At some point he may be willing to answer questions, but at this point he has invoked his rights," Lewis said. "He has an attorney. We couldn't question him if we wanted to."

Clark's attorney, David Dworski, said his client is "committed to proceeding appropriately with the authorities." He would not elaborate.

A police lab is expediting tests on Clark's DNA. University of Connecticut genetics professor Linda Strausbaugh says testing can be done in days if a case gets top priority.

Clark's job as an animal-services technician at Yale put him in contact with Le, who worked for a Yale laboratory that conducted experiments on mice. She was part of a research team headed by her faculty adviser, Anton Bennett, that focused on enzyme research that could have implications in cancer, diabetes and muscular dystrophy. Members of the team have declined to comment on the case or their work.

Clark, his fiancee, his sister and his brother-in-law all work for Yale as animal lab technicians.

Le's body was found Sunday stuffed behind the wall of the basement where lab animals are kept. The Connecticut state medical examiner said Wednesday that Le died of "traumatic asphyxiation."

Authorities released no details on how she died, but traumatic asphyxiation could be consistent with a choke hold or some other form of pressure-induced asphyxiation caused by a hand or an object, such as a pipe.

Clark and Le were both 24 years old, but Clark has a muscular build that contrasts sharply to Le's 4-foot-11 (1.49-meter), 90-pound (41-kilogram) frame. Clark also reportedly had a troubling brush with the law in high school after being accused of harassing a girlfriend.

Until recently, Clark's family lived in nearby Branford, a small middle-class suburb of New Haven. In September 2003, when he was a senior at Branford High School, Clark reportedly upset a girlfriend so much that police warned him to stay away from her.

The New Haven Independent reported that when the girl tried to break up with Clark, he attempted to confront her and wrote on her locker.

The girlfriend and her mother told a detective that she had been in a sexual relationship with Clark and that he once forced her to have sex. The relationship continued after that incident, according to the Independent, a news Web site.

The young woman did not pursue the case, and no charges were filed. The Independent reported that Clark was warned in 2003 that police could pursue criminal charges against him if he contacted the girl.

Branford Police Lt. Geoffrey Morgan said Wednesday that his department would not release the unsubstantiated 2003 report. Morgan would neither confirm nor deny the news report, citing cooperation with police investigating the killing.

Clark played baseball at Branford High School, participated in clubs that raised money for charity and the Asian Awareness group, according to the school's 2004 yearbook, the Milestone.

Police are not commenting on a possible motive.

As a technician at Yale, Clark helped clean the cages of research animals used by labs around the Ivy League campus and had other janitorial duties, police said. The technicians help tend to rodents, mostly mice, used in experiments and can help with paperwork.

Since researchers generally try not to move animals from their housing for testing, students and faculty conducting experiments often visit the building where Le was found dead, school officials said.

The Le case has some parallels to the 1998 murder of 21-year-old Suzanne Jovin about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from the Yale campus. The slaying is still unsolved.

In that case, a professor was named as a suspect early in the investigation and was later fired. He was never charged, and authorities never presented evidence against him.

Without mentioning Jovin's name, Lewis referred to the case Wednesday while defending his department's handling of Le's death.

"We don't want to be in the future accused of tunnel vision and saying that we focused on one person and only one person," Lewis said.


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