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09.15.09

What the Police Know About Annie Le's Killer

Police officials say "no suspect [is] in custody" and that "no students are involved” in the murder of the Yale grad student. Former sex crimes prosecutor Wendy Murphy reads between the lines.

The latest news in the murder of Yale Ph.D. student Annie Le is about the confusion in the media.

Some reputable news organizations, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, have reported that cops have a suspect; a male student who failed a lie detector test and was observed to have "defensive wounds"—indicating he'd been in a fight.

But the official police statement is that they have "no suspect in custody" and that "no students are involved."

Hmmm.

If both statements are true, it's possible cops do have a suspect, but he isn't in custody, and he isn't a student at Yale—but he could be a student elsewhere.

Odds are cops are confident that they have their man in sight, if not in custody, or they would never be able to announce with such confidence that the murder was not a "random" act.

Or maybe the individual is an employee or a professor. Police said the crime wasn't "random", so it has to be someone associated with Le—which doesn't mean it's someone from Yale—but it could be and with such a secure building, it makes sense that it would be someone with authorized access or at least with good connections to someone with authorized access.

It's also possible the suspect was a student—but that his status changed to "expelled" after he became the target of the investigation.

Police additionally revealed today that the bloody clothes found hidden in ceiling tiles were "not the clothes Annie Le was wearing when she entered the building." But they didn't say they weren't hers. Annie Le was wearing a skirt and top in the video images that show her headed to the lab the morning she disappeared. Maybe they found her lab coat. Maybe the clothes belong to the killer. Either way—if Annie Le fought with her killer, DNA from his blood or skin cells will be found on the clothing—which will be part of the mountain of physical and forensic evidence cops have reportedly gathered during the investigation.

Whoever killed Annie Le knew there was a good hiding spot in the basement. The lab is a five story, fairly large structure where a neophyte who killed in an unplanned moment of rage might panic and try to hide a body in a closet or in a storage container nearby to where the killing occurred. It takes a lot more energy, planning and time to move a dead body to the basement.

John Connolly: Annie Le’s Final Struggle

Wendy Murphy: Yale Killer Caught on Tape?
A more sophisticated killer would have thought in advance about hiding a body where Annie Le was found—in the "chase," a gap behind the walls of a building not commonly known to people who aren't in the business of erecting structures—where space would have been saved during construction to run wires and pipes from the basement up to all five floors. A more sophisticated killer familiar with the building might know that each level of the building has an access panel that leads to the chase—and that the opening is wide enough to fit a small body through. He might also know that the panel in the basement is the best choice because the smell of human decomposition would take longer for people to notice.With only one entry door to the lab building (other doors exist but they are locked), only coded-card access allowed and 75 surveillance cameras monitoring all the activity in the area surrounding the building, cops no doubt know exactly who entered and left the building around the time Annie Le was murdered.

And odds are cops are confident that they have their man in sight, if not in custody, or they would never be able to announce with such confidence that the murder was not a "random" act. How could they responsibly claim the murder was not "random," which suggests the community is not in any danger, without knowing who killed Annie Le and where he is right now.

The only remaining question is: why are they taking so long to tell the public what they know?

Wendy is a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law/Boston. Wendy specializes in the representation of crime victims, women and children. She also writes and lectures widely on victims' rights and criminal justice policy. Her expose of the American legal system, And Justice For Some , came out in 2007. A former NFL cheerleader and visiting scholar at Harvard Law School, Wendy lives outside Boston with her husband and five children.