Annie Le was murdered on September 8, 2009 at Yale University. She was a doctoral student in the Yale School of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology. She was last seen on a surveillance video in the campus;s research building on the 8th. On September 13, her wedding day, she was found dead inside the same building.
On September 17, Raymond J. Clark III, a lab technician who worked in the building, was arrested for the murder. On March 17, 2011, he pleaded guilty to murdering Annie Le. He was sentenced to 44 years in prison.
Annie was born in San Jose, California to a Vietnamese-American family. She was the valedictorian of her high school, and she was given the superlative "most likely to be the next Einstein". She got approximately $160,000 in scholarship money to the University of Rochester in New York. There, she studied cell developmental biology and minored in medical anthropology.
After undergrad, she was accepted into Yale for her doctorate in pharmacology. Her research was working to find cures and treatments for diabetes and cancer.
She was due to get married on September 13, 2009 in Syosset, New York to her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky. He was a graduate student in the applied physics and mathematics department at Columbia University. The couple were "more than soulmates," according to her future sister-in-law, Lauren. "They were best friends. She lit up his life and he lit up hers."
"Annie was a passionate young scientist who wanted to save the world," her future mother-in-law said. Annie truly had it all. She was extremely intelligent and absolutely crushing her academic career. She was days away from marrying the love of her life. She had so much to look forward to, so much that was senselessly stripped from her.
DISAPPEARANCE AND MURDER
On the morning of September 8, just days before she was due to wed her best friend, Annie left her apartment to go to the Sterling Hall of Medicine. At around 10 AM, she left Sterling Hall to another research building where her research lab was located. Surveillance cameras captured her entering the building, but never captured her leaving.
At around 9 PM, one of her 5 housemates and friends called the police to report her missing when she didn't return home, and wasn't answering their calls. The police closed down the research building for investigation. They searched thoroughly for days.
And then, on September 13, the day that should have been one of the happiest of her and her fiance's lives, it became one of the most horrifying. Her body was found inside of a cable chase in the wall of a basement laboratory in the building. She had been strangled to death, and died due to traumatic asphyxia.
The entrance to the building, and all of the rooms inside of the building, required Yale credentials to enter. The room she was found in housed animals that were used for research. Authorities determined it would have been extremely difficult for any non-Yale students or faculty to circumvent the security measures, and thus, they focused their investigation on Yale employees and students.
On September 17, police arrested Raymond Clark, a 24-year-old lab technician who had been working in the building the day that Annie disappeared. His DNA was taken, but he was released after providing a sample.
Annie's murder generated a lot of media coverage. Sympathy and outrage over the crime was worldwide. Some criticized the extreme media coverage, wondering if the level of public interest was warranted, as they believed that the fact that she was an "Ivy Leaguer" with a lot of potential, who was also very attractive, took media coverage from other cases.
TRIAL AND PROSECUTION
Once police knew that Clark was their guy, he was held on $3 million bail on Suffield, Connecticut. His hearing didn't begin until January 26, 2010. In March of 2011, he entered a guilty plea in exchange for a 44-year prison sentence. (Being around 26 at the time, that would mean he will be released when he is 70.) In his statement, he expressed remorse, but never provided a motive for the brutal murder of the vivacious Annie Lee.
He offered an apology to the family, and took credit for the murder. "I am truly sorry I took Annie away from her friends, her family, and most of all, her fiance. I have always tried to do the right thing and stay out of trouble but I failed. I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie's friends, family, and fiance sat and waited." He said that he didn't ever want to hurt anyone, and that he always tried to be a good person, but he failed. (No shit.)
"I blame only myself and there are no excuses for what I have done. Annie was and will always be a wonderful person, by far a better person than I will ever be in my life. I'm sorry I lied, I'm sorry I ruined lives, and I'm sorry for taking Annie Le's life."
Clark had been engaged to Jennifer Hromadka, and she sat with the murderers parents during his trial. He visited him often while he was awaiting his murder trial. They stayed engaged through the trial, though it is unclear if she stayed with him after he confessed to the crime.
"I will never see all of Annie's dreams come true," said Annie's mother, Vivian Le. "Her future is gone. Her life is gone. Our family has lost a beautiful soul." Her father was overcome with emotions when he tried to read his own statement, and a victim's advocate had to step in and finish the speech for him.
Family members knew that no punishment would be true justice for the life cut short, but 44 years wasn't nearly enough.
Annie's brother, Chris, said that it took him 2 years to find himself again after the loss of his beloved sister. "My only wish is that Raymond Clark realizes the totality of his actions and how many different people he has hurt through taking a life in cold blood," he said.
Clark's father spoke, as well. "The grief and tears we shed are equal for your family, as well as ours," he said in his statement, though he also said his son was a good man, son, and fiance, which one would have to argue against.
Her fiance didn't speak at the sentencing or even at her funeral, but sat with his family, still in his wedding room, likely still in a shocked sadness about the loss of his beloved fiancee.
At the funeral, their planned officiant said, "Annie said about Jon, and I quite, 'I never felt this depth of love for anything or anyone. I want to make him happy all the time. May the memory of Annie Marie Le, and who she was, help to bring you some semblance of peace in this imperfect world," she said to the grieving man.
This case is strange, and so very sad. Why did Clark do this? He apologized, he is doing 44 years for the murder. And yet, he has never told anyone why he decided to extinguish the light of a human that was Annie Le. He was engaged. He believed that Annie was a wonderful human. By all accounts, you know, besides the brutal murder, he seemed like a decent human being. Why did he do this?
I just got married last year, and that element of this story makes my heart hurt even worse than it would if it wouldn't have been her wedding day. 5 days before my wedding, certain family members were beginning to arrive. Decorations were coming together, playlists were being finalized, excitement was at an all-time high. I truly and genuinely cannot even fathom Jonathan's utter terror and sadness when she went missing. My heart literally aches when I think about her family, with plans to travel to see Annie get married, traveling instead to bury her. Every day, inching closer, realizing that the wedding wasn't going to happen. Finding her body, murdered and stuffed into a wall by some lab tech loser on the day she was supposed to walk down the aisle to marry the man she wanted to make happy forever. It is deeply, deeply gut-wrenching.
I'll be honest: I hope Clark doesn't survive his incarceration. Even in his 70s, I don't think he should get another taste of freedom after he stripped Annie of hers. And even in old age, I don't think her friends and siblings and fiance should have to live through the release of the man who stole her life. I hope his 44 years are his last ones.
Rot in prison, Raymond Clark. Rest in peace, Annie Le.