|Re: 12/3/2018 -- New Haven Register: Forum: There is hope Suzanne Jovin’s killer will be brought to justice|
Forum: There is hope Suzanne Jovin’s killer will be brought to justice
Updated 12:06 pm EST, Monday, December 3, 2018
Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo /
New Haven Police placed fliers in the area of the site where Suzanne Jovin was murdered.
Twenty years ago, on Dec. 4, 1998, Suzanne Jovin, a Yale senior, was murdered shortly before 10 p.m. in the East Rock residential area of New Haven almost two miles from the campus. Twenty years later, the killer still has not been brought to justice, despite the continuing commitment of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice and the work of several teams of experienced homicide investigators over the years. Nevertheless, there’s good reason to think that will happen. Why? Because of recent advances in analysis of DNA.
On that Friday evening in 1998 , Jovin ran into and spoke briefly with a classmate on Yale’s Old Campus around 9:20 p.m. as she walked to the police office in Phelps Gate to return a key for a vehicle she had used for a Best Buddies pizza party earlier that evening. Moments later, she was seen by another classmate walking north on College Street outside Phelps Gate. Shortly before 10 p.m., she was attacked — stabbed 17 times in the head and neck — near the intersection of East Rock and Edgehill Roads, more than a mile and a half north of Phelps Gate.
A Hamden woman told New Haven police that as she was driving northward on Whitney Avenue around 10 p.m. a man came running very fast — “as if his life depended on it” — from Huntington Street into Whitney Avenue. Huntington is one block south of East Rock Road and Whitney is one block east of Edgehill Road. Investigators surmised the killer ran one block south on Edgehill, then ran eastward down Huntington. The woman said the man ran for a moment alongside the car, then sprinted to the east side of Whitney, hurdled some shrubs and disappeared in the darkened grounds near the Red Cross building.
Years later, a team of retired state police investigators arranged for a New York police artist to make a sketch of the running man based on the woman’s description. The man was described as a physically fit, athletic-looking white male in his 20s or 30s with defined features and well-groomed blond or dark blond hair and wearing dark pants and a loose fitted green jacket.
What made the “running man” of such interest to investigators from the outset — the New Haven police knew about him immediately although the public wasn’t informed until the sketch was made years later — was the fact that another person reported having seen Jovin walking on East Rock Road only moments before she was attacked with a man whose features resembled those of the “running man.”
Both witnesses spoke with the police immediately and cooperated fully with them. But because of the time of day and because both had only a fleeting glance of the man at a moment when neither had any reason to connect him with a crime, it would have been difficult for them to subsequently identify someone as the man they saw. Nevertheless, thanks to the ability to obtain a DNA profile from minute traces of “touch DNA,” it may be possible to identify the killer.
“Touch DNA” is the DNA in the skin cells that are left on an object when a person touches it. Almost two decades ago, the UK Forensic Science Service developed a technique called Low Copy Number profiling that enables analysts to obtain a DNA profile from only a few skin cells. About 10 years ago, a technique was developed that enables forensic scientists to collect skin cells from objects a perpetrator has touched. Used together, the techniques can produce a DNA profile of a perpetrator from only a few skin cells.
By reconstructing the crime and applying the harvesting technique to Jovin’s clothing in the places where the killer might have touched it as he attacked her, it might be possible to obtain his DNA profile. The state’s forensic lab now has the ability to harvest “touch DNA” from the clothing of a victim and, indeed, has done that in several recent cases. Last year, the prosecutors announced they hoped to recover the killer’s “touch DNA” from Jovin’s clothing.
“Touch DNA” doesn’t come with a name and investigators would still have to match it to an individual, either through the state and federal DNA databases or perhaps through Ancestry.com or some other type of familial searching. Nevertheless, despite the fact that 20 years have passed since that Friday evening in December 1998, there is some reason to think that, thanks to recent developments in the collection and analysis of DNA, the person who killed Suzanne Jovin will be brought to justice.
David R. Cameron is a professor of political science at Yale and has served on the state’s Eyewitness Identification Task Force.