By Mary Ellen Godin
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (Reuters) - A lab technician convicted of killing a Yale University student, whose body was found stuffed behind a wall on the day she was to be married, was sentenced to 44 years in prison on Friday at an emotionally wrenching court hearing.
The sentence, which carries no possibility of parole or early release for Raymond Clark, 26, was the result of a plea deal with prosecutors in the death of Annie Le, 24, who disappeared on September 8, 2009.
The body of Le, a 24-year-old Yale graduate pharmacology student, was discovered behind a wall in the Yale Animal Research Center, where she and Clark worked, five days later on what was to be her wedding day.
She had been strangled, and her jaw and collar bones had been broken, authorities said.
Clark was arrested four days later and in March pleaded guilty to murder and attempted sexual assault.
Members of Le's family, many of them from Placerville, California, as well as friends and classmates attended the hearing in New Haven Superior Court. Members of Clark's family also were there, as was his fiance.
Le's relatives gave statements, describing her laugh, her once-promising future and their anguish.
"I will never see her walk down the aisle," said her mother, Vivian Le. "Her future is gone. I will never understand how this can happen. I miss her so much."
Le's fiance Jonathan Widawsky was in court as well, an attorney for the family said. He did not speak.
Clark also spoke, saying he was responsible for "causing tremendous pain to all who loved and cared about Annie."
"I'm sorry I lied, I'm sorry I ruined lives and I'm sorry for taking Annie Le's life," he said.
Marshals and victims' advocates handed out tissues to many people weeping in the courtroom. Clark also wiped his eyes.
A blood-stained sock bearing traces of Le's and Clark's DNA was among the evidence that made him the only suspect.
Judge Roland Fasano said he accepted the plea deal to keep the families from having to hear the crime details at trial.
"Two families are deeply destroyed because of one day's events," he said. "No amount of time is going to make that up."
Family attorney Joseph Tacopina said later that most of Le's large, close-knit family supported the 44-year sentence.
"Most of them realize that (Clark) will spend the rest of his life in jail," Tacopina said. "This family is not about vengeance."
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)