Bits and pieces on the Annie Le murder

The story in today’s New York Post on the arrest of lab technician Raymond Clark for the murder of graduate student Annie Le gives no idea of how and why police think that Clark killed the young woman, except to say that there was no sexual/romantic connection between them, and to suggest “work rage,” possibly triggered by Le not keeping her mouse cages cleaned. Also, fellow employees have described Clark as a “control freak.” It’s all very vague. The story also tells us that what led authorities to arrest Clark was the discovery of DNA in the wall space where Le’s body was found. I didn’t know that you can leave identifiable DNA on walls and objects—or a dead body—just by touching them with your hands, which is apparently what happened here. That’s remarkable.

It also still remains to be explained why it took over four days from the time of Le’s disappearance to the discovery of her body in the very place where she worked, given that there was no other place where her body could be, since she had not left the building.

Continuing the pattern of stunningly unhelpful information from the New Haven Police that we’ve seen since the beginning of this case, Fox News reports:

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—A Connecticut police chief says authorities may never know the motive for the killing of a Yale University graduate student whose body was found hidden behind a wall.

New Haven police Chief James Lewis told local television stations Friday the only person who knows the reason for the murder of Annie Le is the man charged with the crime, Raymond Clark III.

Isn’t that bizarre? The police just arrested Clark yesterday, and today they’re already announcing that they may never know his motive.

Chief James Lewis is clearly a graduate of the James Kalstrom School of Public Leadership, which I explained in a 2006 article about Iraq:

We have these sneaky-faced bureaucrats like Abizaid and Sanchez, and Peter Pace who seems always depressed. It’s the James Kalstrom school of leadership, named after the FBI agent who led the investigation into the crash of TWA flight 800. For months I saw this guy daily on TV giving press conferences, and his whole demeanor conveyed discouragement, depression, and sneakiness. But this manner of leadership fits liberal society. Liberalism is (formally) against leadership, against power….

Also in the Le case, ABC has a story on the possibility that Raymond Clark could face the death penalty. The ABC writer, Emily Friedman, looks at every angle, and concludes—with an implication of regret—that none of the aggravated elements that would turn the murder into a capital felony are present in this case. Now think about it. Since when do the media, on the arrest of a murder suspect, immediately start speculating about whether he will get the death penalty? Normally, the media never talk about the death penalty, except to oppose it. Normally, the media treat ten year sentences for depraved murders as routine and don’t question them. So why, in a case where it’s not even technically possible for the suspect to get the death penalty, does ABC have an entire story exploring that very idea?



David B. writes:

I have read that you can leave DNA just by touching someone on the arm with your bare hands. [LA replies: that’s amazing.] This means DNA could have been left on her clothes or body.

Most murders do not have what normal people would call rational motives. Some murders are done on the spur of the moment. A killer did not get out of bed that morning with any idea of murdering someone, but does it. In this case, the suspect may have disliked Miss Le, or decided he did. Then one day he notices that she is only 4 feet 11 inches tall and 90 pounds.

Do you remember the case of one John Mack, an aide to then-House Speaker Jim Wright? This was about 20 years ago. Mack had to resign his post when it became known that he had taken a hammer and almost beat a woman to death who was alone with him in the store Mack was working in. Wright had pulled strings and gotten Mack out of a prison term.

This is still another illustration of how dangerous it is for women in today’s world.

David continues:

Here is the New York Times account of John Mack’s resignation. He served 27 months in prison for the 1973 attack. This article doesn’t tell us that Wright arranged for an early parole.

As I recall from the Washington Post story, the woman was in a store in which Mack worked. They were alone and John Mack just took a hammer and started beating her on the head. Mack could not explain why he did it.

This is one of the stranger crime stories I have ever come across. John Mack was a respectable looking middle class white man. I remember Mark Shields on the Capital Gang talking about what a great guy John Mack was and how sorry he was for the poor guy.

LA replies:

Would this be classified as a random attack, since it was not planned, pre-thought, and had no motive? Or is what makes an attack random the fact that the perpetrator has no prior acquaintance with the victim? Which, as I’ve said before, would be absurd. It would mean that all violent stranger-crimes are “random.” But I am afraid that that is exactly what today’s police departments mean by “random.”

September 19

James P. writes:

You writes:

“So why, in a case where it’s not even technically possible for the suspect to get the death penalty, does ABC have an entire story exploring that very idea?”

Because a white prole killed a non-white elite female? Surely a “doubly hateful” crime—against a non-white female—creates the “special circumstances” needed for the death penalty to apply!

JP writes:

I would caution against drawing too many conclusions in this case when all you have as a source of information are the media accounts. Having worked several homicides in my career, I can tell you that we often release only the most basic facts in the case to the media. There are numerous reasons for doing this and all involve protecting the integrity of the investigation. Even though there is a suspect in custody in this murder, I would guarantee that the investigation is still ongoing. You write:

“Continuing the pattern of stunningly unhelpful information from the New Haven Police that we’ve seen since the beginning of this case …”

Helpful to whom? I realize there is national interest in this case, however, the primary focus of the Police Department is to conduct a thorough investigation, even if that means keeping certain facts close to the chest. [LA replies: Point taken. Obviously I’m not saying police need to releease information that would compromise the investigation. What I was talking about was basic information needed to make sense of the information they gave us. Here’s just one example that comes to mind: the police said that “bloody clothes” were found hidden in the lab. But—for at least a couple of days—they didn’t say whether they were Annie’s clothes or not. And providing this basic information would not have compromised anything, as surely the murderer would have known what clothes he had hidden.]

You also write:

“Isn’t that bizarre? The police just arrested Clark yesterday, and today they’re already announcing that they may never know his motive.”

Why is this unusual? He apparently is not talking to investigators since his arrest, so he is not providing them with an explanation. In order to determine a motive (which isn’t always critical to know) the police must continue to investigate the suspect, his history, his associations, etc. This means interviewing a lot of people. That is why it is critical that certain facts in the case are kept from the public. If this suspect told someone anything about the crime, and that person is interviewed by police and reveals that information, the police need to be sure that the person whom they’ve interviewed could not have gotten that information from another source such as the media. [LA replies: There was no reason for the police chief to have made this pessimistic statement, anticipating failure before hand. It was a gratuitous throwing up of his hands.]

“Chief James Lewis is clearly a graduate of the James Kalstrom School of Public Leadership … ”

You may be entirely correct about in observation, however, consider that Chiefs of Police are often default spokesmen for their departments when they often do not posses the skills for such a task. A department that does not have a designated Public Information Officer, especially in a high profile case such as this one, often does a poor job in this endeavor.

Your criticisms of the media, in regards to their speculations about penalties at this stage, are right on. When the media start following a certain narrative in a cases like this, it creates an artificial community concern that burdens the police. The media then begins to pressure the police with questions about completely irrelevant issues, ones which they themselves have created, forcing the police to try and dispel these issues, subsequently opening themselves up to criticisms of incompetence and cover-ups that come from the all the predictable Monday morning quarterbacks. And without a good PIO, departments often end up looking just that way.

Finally, in my experience, even when we provide detailed press releases and on-camera interviews in high profile cases, the folks in the media will inevitably still get many facts wrong in their reporting. You must admit that there are few people in the news media these days that are very bright. [LA replies: They’re not just “not very bright,” they often show a lack of minimal intellectual competence or the curiosity that is a requirement for being a reporter. For example, they will raise obvious questions and contradictions in a story that they then fail utterly to address but just leave hanging there.]

September 20

JP replies:

Thanks you for reading and posting my comments. Your highlighted comments are all valid points. I hope I was not too defensive, however, as you can imagine in my line of work, I often encounter the following dynamic: Incompetent reporting followed by confusing information getting to the public followed by blanket assumptions of incompetence by the police.

I do appreciate your comments regarding the Gates affair. I believe an important factor in that case was that the actual reports by the involved officers were available to the public without the filter of the media. It was very clear to me (and obviously to you based on what you wrote) that there was a significant contrast in reality between those articulate and unemotional reports, and all the BS coming from the Bates camp.

Thanks again.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 18, 2009 09:52 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):