Tag Archive for Connecticut

Bare Bones Conviction

Robert Marra, FBI informant and murderer.

When police started looking into Thomas Marra, Jr.’s multinational car-theft operation, the one-time FBI informant decided it was time to tie up a few loose ends. The result was murder.
 
One of the loose ends was 15-year-old Alex Palmieri — a young man whose plans to become an opera singer were subsumed by the excitement of stealing cars. Alex was nabbed by police and Marra suspected he had become an informant. Marra directed two associates, Nicky Byers and Frank Spetrino, to bring Alex to his home on February 6, 1984 for a talk.
 
They did so, and Alex was never seen alive again. The only hard evidence to his fate was a tennis shoe and foot bones that washed up on a Bridgeport, Connecticut beach. Based on that slim forensic evidence and the testimony of Byers and Spetrino, Marra was convicted of the teen’s killing and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
 
“Marra was like Fagin and Alex was his Oliver Twist,” prosecutor Robert A. Lacobelle told a Connecticut newspaper. “Alex looked up to Marra, and Marra took advantage of that, making Alex commit crimes for him.”
 
Marra had previously worked for the FBI as an undercover informant in a messed-up sting operation designed to nab Bridgeport officials who were suspected of taking bribes. The sting blew up in the FBI’s face when Bridgeport police arrested Marra for attempting to bribe the head of the city’s police department. The local cops donated the feds’ money used to solicit the bribe to charity and the red-faced agents were forced to ask that the charges against their de facto agent be dropped. However, the sting-gone-bad drew the local authorities to Marra’s stolen-car operation like flies to garbage and put him in a very precarious position.
 
While Alex’s girlfriend waited in the car, Byers, Spetrino and Alex went into Marra’s garage to discuss Alex’s future with the car-theft ring.
 
Marra told Alex he wanted the teen to disappear for a while and offerred to send him to Italy. Alex refused and the discussion got heated. Marra gave Spetrino an aluminum bat and whispered to him not to let Alex leave the garage. As Alex tried to leave, Spetrino swung the bat, hitting the boy in the head. He dealt two or three more blows.
 
“Let’s get him in the refrigerator,” Spetrino recalled that Marra ordered.
 
They dragged the semi-conscious victim toward the cooler and Alex began mumbling “Boss! Boss!” Spetrino testified at Marra’s trial.
 
“Shut up, Alex,” Marra said. “You didn’t go to Italy.”
 
Marra proceeded to beat Alex with the bat until he quieted down — the 15 to 20 blows reportedly split open his skull, exposing his brain. They put his body in the refrigerator and padlocked the door.
 
Byers testified against Marra, telling the jury that after they dumped the refrigerator, Marra told him that if he talked, “there was a barrel big enough for him.” He also testified that Alex was still semi-conscious after they padlocked the refrigerator and that the men could hear him talking.
 
Later, in a rented van, the men drove to where the Pequonnock River empties into the Bridgeport harbor and after chopping a few holes in the refrigerator to make it sink, dumped the cooler into the water. Spetrino testified that he watched the refrigerator for a “short time” and he noticed that it did not sink, but floated.
 
Alex’s family filed a missing person report and by October 1985, the police investigation concluded that Marra had probably killed the young man.
 
Authorities executed a search warrant of Marra’s home on October 7, 1985. They took 16 wood and soil samples that passed presumptive tests for blood. However, more in-depth tests were never conducted because sometime between 1985 and 1990, the samples were lost.
 
During Marra’s trial, the state was allowed to introduce the reports about the lost evidence, but the jury was also given a lengthy instruction that “if the state did not produce the evidence that it would ordinarily be expected to produce, the jury could infer that the evidence was unfavorable to the state.”
 
The only physical evidence in this case was discovered by a woman and her son who were walking along the shore about two miles from where Spetrino helped Marra dump the refrigerator. The mother and son came across a Pro Champs sneaker and a sock containing what appeared to be a human foot.
 
A forensic anthropologist testified at Marra’s trial that the bones were consistent with a Caucasian male between the ages of 14 and 50. The appearance of barnacles on the sneaker indicated that it had been in the water for some time. Alex’s girlfriend, his mother and Spetrino all identified the tennis shoe as the same type that Alex was wearing the day he disappeared.
 
Marra’s defense consisted of arguing that the state had not proved Alex was dead. Instead, he tried to establish that Alex had fled to Argentina, where he had relatives. The defense introduced evidence that Alex had been present at a travel agency five days after Marra was alleged to have killed him.
 
Marra also had a witness who purchased Marra’s home afer the disappearance and who testified that a refrigerator similar to the one described by Spetrino was still in the house.
 
Finally, Marra’s attorney asked why police divers searched for five months for the refrigerator in a relatively small area but were unable to find it.
 
In the end, with just a tiny amount of physical evidence linking him to the crime, Marra was convicted of Alex’s murder.

Obsession

Love makes people do strange things, and when love is perverted into something base and immoral, anything can happen — including, of course, murder.
 
The sad tale of Beth Ann Carpenter and Haiman Clein is filled with misplaced love that left a little girl without a father, put three people in prison doing hard time, and tore three families apart.
 
The story begins in 1992 when Kim Carpenter, Beth Ann’s sister, met Anson “Buzz” Clinton III, an exotic dancer, at a bar where Buzz was performing. At the time, Kim and her daughter were living with Beth Ann and their parents. She was struggling with balancing home, low-wage work and single-parenting. However, as her relationship with Buzz progressed, Kim moved out of the family home, leaving her daughter with her parents and sister for long periods.
 
Beth Ann, an attorney, and her mother, Cynthia, began a legal action to have Kim removed as the girl’s guardian, and Cynthia also filed a motion for temporary custody of the girl, who was two years old at the time. The actions were resented by Kim, causing more of a rift.
 
In October 1992 the Probate Court granted Cynthia temporary custody, but after Kim carried out the court-ordered steps to improve her parenting, custody of the toddler was returned to her.
 
Buzz and Kim married in January 1993, and the relationship between them and the Carpenters continued to sour. Cynthia and Beth Ann continued litigation to gain custody of Kim’s daughter, and in return, Buzz and Kim threatened to move from Connecticut to Arizona, which at the time gave grandparents very little legal standing in custody and visitation cases.
 
Beth Ann had moved out of her parents’ home in November 1992 when she was hired by Haiman Clein, a Norwich attorney. By November 1993, Clein and Beth Ann were involved in a torrid love affair, despite the fact that Clein was married with four children and was 20 years older than his 30-year-old junior attorney. At one time, Clein likened the affair to the Louis Malle film Damage, where an older man and his daughter-in-law pursue an obsessive affair heedless of the potential cost.
 
After Beth Ann and Buzz’s father failed to agree to break up Kim and Buzz, Beth Ann told Anson Clinton, Jr., “Let’s go, Richard (referring to her brother), we’re not getting anywhere here. I’ll take care of it.”
 
The plan to “take care of it” was to have Buzz Clinton III murdered.
 
Beth Ann went to Haiman and asked him to kill Buzz. According to Haiman, Beth Ann told him that her niece was being abused and that the only way to stop it was to kill the abuser. Although the girl was “developmentally delayed,” according to court records, there was no indication that she was abused. He refused at first, but she continued to press him. Eventually Haiman told her that he knew a man, Mark Despres, who might be willing to take the contract. Beth Ann told Haiman to make the necessary arrangements.
 
At least that’s what Haiman testified to at Beth Ann’s trial. When she took the stand in her own defense, she told a very different story. She admitted confiding in Haiman that she was afraid her niece was not being properly cared for and that she didn’t want Buzz and Kim to take the girl across the countrty. She absolutely denied knowing anything about Haiman hiring Despres to kill Buzz, however.
 
Regardless, Despres, who bought and sold drugs with Haiman Clein but who had never committed a violent crime before, agreed to kill Buzz for $8,500. He received $2,000 up front.
 
One month later, in February 1994, the ardor had apparently cooled somewhat between Haiman and Beth Ann, and Haiman called off the hit. However, within a few weeks, Beth Ann returned to Haiman “in a state of hysteria,” telling him that her niece had been burned with a cigarette and locked in the basement of Kim and Buzz’s house. She asked him to contact Despres to carry out the killing, saying that she was willing to pay for it herself.
 
Again, that was Haiman’s story on the stand.
 
He got in touch with Despres and they agreed on a $5,000 payment for the murder. Haiman paid Despres another $1,000 that day.
 
The murder happened in March 1994 after Despres learned that Buzz was selling a tow truck. Despres and his teenage son, Chris, met Buzz in the parking lot of a restaurant on I-95. Buzz agreed to show him the tow truck because Despres was willing to pay cash for it — cash that would allow Buzz and Kim to move to Arizona.
 
He drove away with Despres and his son following him. As they exited I-95, Despres flashed his headlights and the two cars pulled over to the shoulder. Buzz got out of his car and approached the car with Despres and his son.
 
Despres fired six shots from a .38 revolver at Buzz, hitting him twice in the chest. When he saw headlights coming down the exit, he jumped back in his car and fled, running over Buzz’s body with his car.
 
Because of their contentious relationship with Kim and Buzz, the Carpenters became the initial target of the police investigation. After all Beth Ann’s father at one time tried to strangle Buzz until Cynthia Carpenter reminded him about his high blood pressure.
 
The trail soon led to Beth Ann and then to Haiman and Despres. In the course of the investigation, police learned not only was Haiman involved in a murder-for-hire plot, but that he was actively defrauding clients, dealing dope and stealing money from trust accounts under his care.
 
In May 1994, police executed a search warrant at the home of Despres’s mother, but failed to find the murder weapon, which Chris Despres and his father smashed into pieces shortly after the killing. For the conspirators, however, the writing was on the wall.
 
Murders tend to put a strain on even the most obsessive relationships, and the affair between Haiman and Beth Ann was no different. In an effort to end the relationship, Beth Ann took a job with another law firm in January 1995. It would take putting the Atlantic Ocean between them to finally end it — at least the physical affair. People who plan murders together can never really simply walk away from one another.
 
Beth Ann moved to London, England in the summer of 1995 as the police were closing in on the killers. Whether or not she was attempting to flee from the authorities is in dispute: she did not travel under an alias and Scotland Yard had no trouble tracking her down in London. The prosecution, however, would use the fact that she applied for an expedited passport of evidence that she was trying to get out of the country quickly. Eventually, Beth Ann moved to Dublin, Ireland.
 
Despres was arrested for Buzz’s murder in October 1995 and was initially uncooperative with authorities. However, in December 1995 he gave police a lengthy statement that implicated Haiman and Beth Ann. Many of the facts of that statement were corroborated by Chris Despres.
 
After Despres was arrested, Haiman was making plans to disappear. He was aggressively looting client accounts and storing the money in the bank accounts of friends around the country. On December 15, 1995, as the police were coming to arrest him, he disappeared.
 
In Dublin, U.S. and British authorities contacted Beth Ann and she agreed to cooperate with their investigation. Haiman was keeping in contact with her as he traveled around the United States, and after two months on the lam, as he spoke with Beth Ann from California, he was arrested by the FBI.
 
“You set me up,” were his last words to his one-time lover.
 
Despres pleaded guilty to killing Anson “Buzz” Clinton III and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He remained an uncooperative participant and did not testify in Beth Ann’s trial.
 
Haiman Clein also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and faced a 45-year term when he began cooperating with authorities. He was so helpful in building the case against Beth Ann, that the prosecutor in her case called him the most cooperative witness he had ever worked with. However, his sentence was deferred until he testified against Beth Ann.
 
The process of getting Beth Ann back from Irish authorities was more difficult than normal, since she faced the death penalty in Connecticut. Ireland, like many European nations, does not have capital punishment and is reluctant to extradite a prisoner to a nation where they face execution.
 
Beth Ann was arrested in November 1997 and spent 19 months in prison in Ireland until the State of Connecticut agreed not to seek the death penalty for the person it argued was the instigator and ringleader of the conspiracy.
 
She went to trial in 2002.
 
The prosecution used the theory that Beth Ann wanted Buzz out of the way because he was going to move Kim and her daughter out of state. Haiman took the stand and testified to his obsession with the young, attractive woman, stating that he would have done anything for her. The prosecution contended that this obsession was what prompted him to make the contract with Despres.
 
The defense argued that Beth Ann was totally under Haiman’s spell, that he was a dominating lover who psychologically controlled her.
 
“I didn’t feel right when I wasn’t with him,” Beth Ann testified. “He sort of validated me and made me feel whole.”
 
Her attorney had wanted to bring in expert testimony about dependent personality disorders, but after hearing her expert outside the presence of the jury, the judge ruled that it was not valid scientifically and therefore could not be used as a defense.
 
The jury convicted her of capital murder and conspiracy and Beth Ann Carpenter was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
 
Shortly after she was sentenced, a remorseful Haiman Clein received a 35-year sentence.
 
In October 2005, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld Beth Ann’s conviction, ruling that the trial judge did not err when he refused to allow her expert testimony.
 
Postscript: I am proud to include the message below that I received from Buzz’s mother after this story was posted.

As the mother of Buzz, I would like to commend you on one of the most truthful articles written about this crime. It is clear and factual. Thank you for stating the raw facts and not embellishing them in-order to sensationalize the story. I feel the truth is sensational enough. It is really hard to believe that there are people in this world as devious as that bunch. This is as unbelievable as any soap.
 
Today, St. Patrick’s Day is the 12th anniversary of the burial of our beloved son, Buzz. It’s ironic that today is the day that my daughter finds this wonderful article on line and e-mailed it to me.
Sincerely,
Dee, mother of the victim