Murder-for-hire plot revisited as convict seeks relief from life sentence
Rockville - Beth Ann Carpenter, who as a young woman was at the center of a sensational murder-for-hire case in southeastern Connecticut, has crossed into middle age in prison.
The 51-year-old, convicted of capital felony in 2002 for hatching a plot to have her brother-in-law, Anson "Buzz" Clinton murdered in 1994, is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole at the Janet S. York Correctional Center.
She maintains her innocence and, having exhausted her criminal appeals, is seeking relief through a Writ of Habeas Corpus, a civil proceeding that is sometimes referred to as an appeal of last resort.
On the second day of her habeas trial before Superior Court Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza, she testified for more than two hours in a raspy voice.
The one-time attorney still wears her signature red hair long, though her stylish business suits and heels have long been replaced by prison-issue pants and gray sweatshirt. She listed at least eight medications that she takes for anxiety, allergies and other ailments and, as the afternoon wore on, admitted she was "exhausted."
Carpenter contends she has been incarcerated illegally for the past 17 years, in part because she suffers from a personality disorder that left her helpless at the hands of her lover and employer, attorney Haiman Clein. The Niantic women's prison where she has spent those years is just around the corner from the Rocky Neck Connector, where Clinton, 28, of Old Lyme, was shot to death by Mark Despres, who had been hired by Clein to kill Clinton. Clein and Despres pleaded guilty in the murder-for-hire plot and are incarcerated.
Under direct examination by attorney Frederick M. O'Brien from the Pattis Law Firm, Carpenter described her affair with Clein as "tumultuous and passionate" and said she didn't know until the weekend after Clinton's death that he had hired a hitman.
"He said he was doing the world a favor and I should be thankful," Carpenter testified Tuesday. She said she was pregnant with twin girls by Clein and was dependent on him financially and emotionally.
"I was in love," she testified. "I was afraid. I was pregnant."
She said she miscarried the twins at five months.
Carpenter's family had been engaged in a dispute with Clinton, who was married to Carpenter's sister Kim Carpenter, over custody of Kim's daughter, Rebecca. Now a grown woman, Rebecca Carpenter, who supports her aunt Beth, sat in court Tuesday with her boyfriend and Carpenter's mother, Cynthia Carpenter.
Suzanne Clinton, who was just 11 when her big brother "Buzz" was killed, arrived at court in midafternoon. She said she now works as an assistant principal at a Windham School and left work to watch part of the trial because she didn't want the judge to see only supporters of Carpenter in the gallery. She exchanged pleasantries with Rebecca Carpenter in the courthouse hallway.
Carpenter claims her trial attorneys, Hugh Keefe and Tara Knight, failed to advise her about the consequences of rejecting the plea bargaining process and being convicted at trial. She said they threatened to pull out of the case during her trial and forced her to sign a statement indicating she was not interested in a plea deal.
Under cross-examination, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Michael J. Proto emphasized Carpenter's legal training and asked if she would have accepted a plea offer for a crime she says she didn't commit. Carpenter said no.
She claims, also, that she suffers from a dependent personality disorder that left her powerless in her relationship with Clein, who her attorneys say is a narcissist with an antisocial personality disorder. Clinical psychologist Danielle Moreggi testified she performed a battery of tests on Carpenter between 2009 and 2011. Moreggi said she attempted to interview Clein with Carpenter's attorneys, but that Clein "passive-aggressively indicated he did not want to talk." She said he refused to cooperate even after attorney Norman A. Pattis "got on his hands and knees and pleaded with Mr. Clein to speak to us," but that she assessed his personality based on trial transcripts and other information.
Moreggi, who teaches at the University of New Haven, said she was recruited into the case by a student, attorney Susan Nugent, who graduated from Catholic University the same year as Carpenter. Moreggi said she hasn't been "paid a cent" for her work.
"I have done a full psychological assessment of Beth Carpenter, and there's not a doubt in my mind that she's innocent," Moreggi said in the hallway after court adjourned for the day.
The trial resumes Dec. 8, when Carpenter's attorneys are expected to call to the witness stand the lawyers who represented Carpenter at trial. Clein also has received a subpoena and was transported from prison to the courthouse on Tuesday, but not brought into the courtroom. He eventually will be called to the witness stand as well, according to Carpenter's attorneys.