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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN WICKERSHAM

The innocent suspect

The dangerous power of a story ruins a man’s reputation

When my husband’s cousin Jim Van de Velde came to visit in 2000, he played with our 6-year-old, talked with our older son about books and movies, and updated us on his mother and sisters. We enjoyed, as we had always enjoyed, his quiet, steady kindness; but we also knew that he was despondent and that the family was in agony. For the past couple of years Jim had been in limbo: the only suspect ever named in the murder of Suzanne Jovin, a Yale undergraduate stabbed to death in December 1998. Jim, a Yale lecturer who had been Jovin’s thesis adviser, was questioned after the murder. His name and photo started to appear in newspapers within a week. He had lost his career and his reputation. There was never any evidence connecting him with the crime, but because the murder went unsolved, there was no way for him to break free of the story.

It has taken a long time, but now he has finally been vindicated. On June 3, it was announced that Yale and the New Haven police have agreed to pay settlements in the civil rights lawsuits Jim filed against them; and for the first time the New Haven district attorney has publicly confirmed that “he’s not considered a suspect.”

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