Carpenter's former lover offers no help with claim of innocence
Rockville — Haiman Clein hired a hit man for Beth Carpenter in the throes of an intense love affair with the striking redhead 20 years ago, but with nearly 19 years of prison behind him, he refuses to help his former paramour grasp at freedom.
The two former southeastern Connecticut attorneys, whose shocking and sensational deeds became the subject of books and television shows, met face to face in a courtroom Tuesday for the first time since Carpenter's trial in 2002.
Testifying at Carpenter's habeas trial in Superior Court Tuesday, Clein firmly squashed Carpenter's claim of "actual innocence." In her habeas corpus petition, she said she was unaware that Clein hired Mark Despres to kill her brother-in-law, 28-year-old Anson "Buzz" Clinton III, until after Clinton was fatally shot in March 1994 on the Rocky Neck Connector in East Lyme. Her family was involved in a custody dispute over her niece, Rebecca, whose mother, Kim Carpenter, was married to Clinton.
Shackled and wearing tan prison khakis, Clein, a youthful looking 73-year-old, looked toward Carpenter and the family members who sat behind her when correction officers led him into the courtroom. Carpenter returned his gaze, then turned her back and spoke to one of her attorneys.
As a young attorney, Carpenter was working at Clein's law firm and had told him Clinton was abusing her 3-year-old niece. Clein testified Tuesday that the couple, who began a love affair about a year earlier, discussed the murder-for-hire plot "many times." He said Carpenter provided him with a picture of Clinton at Despres' request and that he, Carpenter and Despres "alluded" to the plot at an office Christmas party.
"She knew it was going to occur," Clein testified. "It wasn't a surprise to her. She knew."
Based on Clein's testimony, attorney Norman A. Pattis withdrew Carpenter's claim of "actual innocence," but said he is hoping to prevail on claims that her trial attorneys provided ineffective counsel.
Clein has the chance of being paroled from his 35-year prison sentence in a couple of years. He had accepted a plea offer from the state, which led to a sentence that gave him the possibility of spending his final years a free man. His maximum release date is 2022, because he was allowed to accrue "good time" while incarcerated, and he is eligible for parole even sooner if he can convince officials he is no longer a threat to society.
Carpenter took her case to trial in 2002 and was found guilty of capital felony, resulting in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Now 51, she has exhausted all her criminal appeals and has filed a civil petition of habeas corpus in an attempt to win a new trial. The habeas trial began last week. Carpenter's attorneys rested their case Tuesday. The state may call one witness Thursday then Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza will be reviewing briefs from both sides before issuing a decision some time after April 2015.
On the witness stand, Clein disputed a psychologist's earlier testimony that one of Carpenter's attorneys had begged Clein on his hands and knees to help Carpenter when the attorney and psychologist met with him in prison about a year ago.
"He was sitting down," Clein said.
He acknowledged that he recently received a letter from Carpenter's mother, Cynthia Carpenter, asking him to help Carpenter. As part of his plea deal with the state, he had testified against Carpenter at her trial in 2002. He said Tuesday that his testimony had been truthful.
"What I interpreted her letter to say was 'Would I change my testimony?' Since my testimony was correct, I don't see how I could," Clein testified.
After court adjourned for the day, Pattis said that he had, in fact, bent down on one knee and asked Clein to help. Pattis said also that he had asked Clein if he still loved Carpenter, and Clein had become teary. Clein also denied that detail from the witness stand.
Carpenter's attorneys also claim that her trial lawyers failed to engage in meaningful plea bargaining while her case was pending. Attorney Hugh Keefe had testified Monday that Carpenter was not interested in taking a deal and was adamant that she wanted a trial. On Tuesday, Judge Susan B. Handy, who supervised pretrial discussions between Carpenter's attorneys and then-state's attorney Kevin T. Kane, said it was not uncommon for cases to go to trial without a plea offer being extended. She said she did not remember whether Carpenter received an offer.
In light of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2012, many judges have started canvassing defendants on the record before their trials begin to ensure they understand the consequences of rejecting plea offers.
Pattis said he remains hopeful, also, about claims that Carpenter's trial attorneys failed to preserve for the appeal record the trial judge's refusal to sequester jurors due to intense media coverage. He is also hopeful about the claim that Carpenter's attorneys failed to develop a claim that she suffers from dependent personality disorder, which created a perfect storm when paired with Clein, who they say has been diagnosed as a narcissist with antisocial personality disorder.
On Tuesday, Branford psychologist Robert Novelly testified that he had not conducted a face to face evaluation with Carpenter prior to being called to testify at her trial and had only reviewed trial transcript, information about the case and Clein's diagnosis. The trial judge, Robert J. Devlin Jr., did not allow Novelly to testify in front of the jury.
Pattis acknowledged that winning the habeas is "an uphill fight."
"I think our best shot is winning at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals seven or eight years from now," he said. "I've been watching Beth die by degrees in a box for a decade and I want her out."
Carpenter is housed at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution in Niantic, where she receives visits from family members, including her niece, Rebecca, who is now a 24-year old mother of three.