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Pastimes : Murder Mystery: Who Killed Yale Student Suzanne Jovin?

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To: Jeffrey S. Mitchell who wrote (985)10/27/2001 9:25:16 AM
From: Jeffrey S. Mitchell  Read Replies (2) of 1389
Re: 10/27/01 - NH Register: DNA found in Jovin case

DNA found in Jovin case

William Kaempffer, Walter Kita, Register Staff October 27, 2001

Van de Velde, Jovin

A sample of DNA recovered from under the fingernails of Suzanne Jovin's left hand may lead police to her killer — or, investigators concede, nowhere.

Detectives assigned to the 1998 murder will soon request voluntary DNA samples from dozens of classmates, friends and others who knew Jovin, a popular Yale senior.

She was stabbed to death three years ago Dec. 4 on a corner in the East Rock neighborhood. Former Yale instructor James R. Van de Velde — Jovin's senior thesis adviser — is the only named suspect.

Prosecutors said Friday the recovered genetic material does not match a DNA sample Van de Velde provided some time ago. But police and prosecutors said that does not eliminate him as a suspect.

Van de Velde's attorney, David Grudberg, said Friday he was "extremely happy" with the results. "But I am outraged that the police, even with that evidence, still refuse to retract the 'suspect' label from James Van de Velde."

Grudberg said he was not surprised by the results.

Prosecutors said little about the DNA evidence, but told reporters it was that of a man.

The samples from Jovin's associates will be compared to the DNA recovered from under her fingernails, New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington said in a prepared statement Friday.

"Until and unless a match is found with the DNA material mixed with Ms. Jovin's blood under the nails of her left hand, investigators will not know whether the contributor of the material was an innocent acquaintance or a likely suspect," the statement reads.

In other words, the DNA may not come from the killer.

"There are innocent ways that you could get someone's DNA under your fingernails," said Dr.

Howard Harris, director of the University of New Haven forensics department. But he added, "It isn't something that just falls out of the air."

Elaine Pagliaro, assistant director of the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden, said there are any number of "normal interactions between people" that could explain the DNA. But, she noted, "It's more than just touching. That would not likely transfer DNA under the nails."

Skin cells might transfer from such benign acts as ruffling someone's hair or giving a back massage, she said.

Police have obtained samples of DNA from Jovin's former boyfriend. It did not match. The material did not match samples provided by police officers, rescue workers and medical personnel who had access to her body.

Grudberg said police should admit "they made a terrible mistake, a terrible rush to judgment" by naming Van de Velde.

Friday's revelation raises two questions, neither of which investigators chose to address: How long have police had this information, and why is it just coming to light now?

"If they have known this for months or years, they should be ashamed they waited" to make it public, Grudberg said.

Van de Velde could not be reached for comment Friday.

Jovin's sister, Ellen Jovin, said "I'd rather not talk."

Yale's response was muted. "We appreciate the ongoing commitment of law enforcement to solve the crime.

We continue to hope that whoever was responsible for Suzanne's death will be brought to justice," said spokesman Tom Conroy.

Obtaining DNA samples from those who knew Jovin three years after her slaying poses a major challenge. The majority of Jovin's classmates have moved from New Haven.

In an interview Friday, Dearington acknowledged those difficulties, but would not comment on how the investigation would proceed.

Dearington said the statement was released to prevent any "misunderstandings" that might arise once word spread that investigators were pressing Jovin associates for DNA samples.

"We don't want to give anyone any false hope that we're on the verge of a breakthrough, and we don't want members of the media to make any false assumptions," said Dearington.

Private investigator Andrew Rosensweig, who is under contract with Yale to conduct his own inquiry, would not comment on the development, a policy he has maintained since his hiring more than a year ago.

No evidence has been found linking anyone else to the crime scene. DNA analysis, a standard investigative technique, has proved helpful in other cases, but finding a match would not solve the murder.

It could, however, help move the investigation along. Little apparent progress has been made since Jovin was found bleeding to death at the corner of East Rock and Edgehill roads.

©New Haven Register 2001
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