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

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From: Jeffrey S. Mitchell6/9/2008 9:52:39 PM
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Re: 6/9/08 - NH Register: Team keeping mum on Jovin murder probe; 10th anniversary of crime coming up in December

Posted on Mon, Jun 9, 2008

Team keeping mum on Jovin murder probe
10th anniversary of crime coming up in December
By Randall Beach, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — Nearly a full year after it began work, the four-man team investigating the murder of Suzanne Jovin is keeping a low profile and reportedly has not contacted the one-time lead suspect or his attorney.

With the 10th anniversary of the crime looming next December, there is no indication of a breakthrough in the case, which has frustrated everybody who has looked into it.

Over the past decade, the slaying of Jovin, a 21-year-old Yale student who was found lying near the corner of Edgehill and East Rock roads the night of Dec. 4, 1998, has been investigated by New Haven Police, the state’s Cold Case Unit, two private detectives hired by Yale and, since last July, the four-man team.

Because the four investigators are part-time volunteers and their leader did not return phone calls from the Register, it is difficult to determine exactly how much time they are devoting to the case.

The team is led by John Mannion, a former head of the state police’s Central Major Crimes Unit. Although the team began working last summer, its existence was kept secret until Nov. 30, when Assistant State’s Attorney James Clark introduced the foursome during a news conference outside the New Haven County Courthouse.

Promising a fresh start at that time, Clark said, "No person is a suspect in the crime, and everyone is a suspect in the crime."

When Clark was then asked if that meant James Van de Velde, the only person ever named as a suspect in the slaying remained a suspect, Clark merely repeated his "no person is" and "everyone is" statement.

Van de Velde, who was a Yale lecturer and Jovin’s academic advisor in 1998, has maintained his innocence. But he said being named a suspect ruined his academic career. Now a security affairs consultant living near Washington, D.C., Van de Velde said in a recent e-mail message that he has not been contacted by any members of the four-man team.

"I have no idea what, if anything, they have done," Van de Velde added. "Did they even consider my suggested avenues of investigation?"

In a New Haven Register Op-ed article last December, Van de Velde reiterated specific suggestions to investigators, such as examining the DNA of the fingerprints found on a soda bottle at the crime scene; and checking out two specific individuals who had carried out abductions while driving vans in Connecticut. Witnesses saw a van parked near the Jovin crime scene the night of the crime.

Mannion did not return several phone call messages seeking comment on this and other aspects of the case.

Van de Velde’s attorney, David Grudberg, chose to take a positive message from the fact Mannion has not contacted him nor his client. "I assume it means they have examined the evidence and drawn the conclusion that we thought was obvious all along: James Van de Velde is not, and should never have been, a suspect."

Grudberg and Van de Velde had hoped that in October 2001, when forensic tests showed DNA found under Jovin’s fingernails did not match that of Van de Velde, authorities would publicly clear him. But they made no such announcement.

The four men on the Jovin investigation team are retired from state police work but now have other occupations. An article in New Haven Magazine earlier this year quoted Mannion saying the investigators meet once a week at most.

However, State’s Attorney Michael Dearington, who with Clark made the decision to assemble the four-man team, said in a recent interview, "Meeting once a week doesn’t begin to describe how much work they put into this. They are in daily communication with each other. This is a seven-day-a-week commitment to them. They are always thinking about this."

While acknowledging that they have full-time jobs, Dearington added, "In terms of their dedication to this, I consider it full-time. They also consider it full-time, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their regular jobs."

Without revealing what the team might have discovered, Dearington said, "We’re very pleased with the work they so far have accomplished."

Asked about the team’s timetable for concluding its investigation and submitting a report to Dearington, he said their work is "open-ended" and has no timetable.

The four have agreed to work on the case as volunteers, being paid $1 per year.

In addition to Mannion, the team consists of Patrick Gaffney, a former detective and sergeant in the Central Major Crimes Unit; Richard Wardell, a former detective on the Eastern Major Crime Squad; and Joseph Sudol, a former detective in the Central Major Crime Squad.

The public has been encouraged since Nov. 30 to provide leads to the team. The phone number is (203) 676-1575 and the email address is jovincase@gmail.com. The mailing address is: Jovin Investigation Team, 234 Church St., Room 402, New Haven, 06510.

Mannion was not available to say whether the public has come forward with any promising tips.

There is a $150,000 reward for anybody who provides information leading to the conviction of Jovin’s killer. Yale University has committed $100,000 of that total and the state has offered $50,000.

Andrew Rosenzweig, one of two private investigators hired by Yale in 2000 to look into the slaying, said recently he had had a conference call with the four investigators. "They asked all the right questions and I volunteered things they didn’t ask."

When asked about the fact the four men have other jobs, Rosenzweig said, "Full-time (investigating) would certainly be better, without question."

But he added, "I’m hopeful a set of fresh eyes and a new team of investigators will be able to uncover something that previous efforts haven’t been able to."

Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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