Yale Murder Suspect Appears on TV
Lecturer goes on '20/20' to deny guilt on the 1998 killing of a Yale undergraduate
Former Yale Lecturer James Van de Velde, the only publicly identified suspect in the Dec. 4, 1998 murder of Yale student Suzanne Jovin, maintained his innocence during his first interview on network television last night.
Van de Velde, who was Jovin's thesis advisor, said police have found no evidence to incriminate him.
"Nothing has been revealed to link me to this crime, and nothing ever will," said Van de Velde, who has granted few interviews since Jovin's death.
Jovin's murder is one of only two out of the 15 murders committed in New Haven in 1998 that remain unsolved, according to the New Haven Police Department.
In a December press conference marking the one-year anniversary of her death, Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing said the list of suspects, initially numbering 15, had dropped to "more than five" or "more than ten." According to the report aired last night, New Haven Police have significantly narrowed the pool of suspects since then.
Van de Velde is the only named suspect in the crime.
But Van de Velde's attorney, David T. Grudberg, said yesterday Van de Velde should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty.
"Jim told the police right from the beginning that he was home alone watching TV," Grudberg said. "In 15 months the police have not found one shred of evidence to dispute that."
ABC reported that Jovin had been frustrated by Van de Velde's treatment of her senior thesis in the weeks leading up to her death. Family and friends characterized her as being "angry" and "near tears" because Van de Velde had not responded to her first draft.
But on "20/20," Van de Velde denied any negligence in the matter, saying only that she might have been anxiety-ridden due to the impending deadline. Regardless, he said it would not make sense for him to murder her simply because she was angry with him. "I don't understand how it translates into a motive for me to murder her," he said.
He also attacked a theory offered by several New Haven Police Department detectives that he killed Jovin in a crime of passion after an argument.
"Ludicrous. What can I say? Pure ridiculous speculation," he said. No reports of any type of relationship beyond that of teacher and student have materialized.
On "20/20" last night, Van de Velde blamed Yale University and the New Haven Police Department for rushing to judgment and presuming him guilty.
"This is a case of institutions colluding and making a mess of a crime," he said. "The dynamic was Yale and the police talked and collaborated and worked together from the very beginning."
Because of their persecution, aided by "wild speculation from the press," Van de Velde said he has lost his life savings, his letters of recommendation and credibility in the job market, as he has received no offers from over 30 would-be employers.
ABC reported that Yale, not the New Haven police, was the first to publicly target Van de Velde as a suspect. Yale cancelled Van de Welde's two spring classes last term.
In a statement several weeks after Jovin's death, Acting Director of Public Affairs Thomas Conroy cited concern about distractions created by the murder investigation.
"Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that his classroom presence would be accompanied by continuing speculation about events outside the classroom that would constitute a major distraction for students and impair their educational experience," he wrote.
That statement, issued in January of 1999, was the first report of Van de Velde's status as a suspect, although Yale said they had been told that he was a suspect by police.
Yale then chose not to renew Van de Velde's contract upon its expiration after the spring term.
Yesterday, Conroy refused to comment on this decision.
"That's between him and his employer," he said.
Conroy declined to comment on whether Van de Velde's status as a suspect had any bearing on the decision and would not say whether Van de Velde could return if he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter.
At the conclusion of "20/20," Van de Velde said he would sue Yale and the New Haven Police Department based on "violations of my civil rights."
But yesterday, Van de Velde's attorney declined comment, and Yale officials have not yet received a suit.