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Lawyer Beth Carpenter gets life for ordering relative's murder

NEW LONDON, Connecticut (Court TV) -- Still adamant that she was framed by a vindictive ex-lover, attorney Beth Carpenter was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for her role in the 1994 contract killing of her brother-in-law.

Carpenter, 38, sobbed quietly but said nothing during a 90-minute hearing that ended with Judge Robert Devlin Jr. imposing the only sentence allowed by state law. Devlin called the March 10, 1994, shooting death of 28-year-old Anson "Buzz" Clinton of East Lyme "insane" and something that Carpenter could have prevented.

According to prosecutors, Carpenter coaxed her cocaine-abusing former lover and boss, attorney Haiman Clein of Old Saybrook, into having Clinton killed because of a family dispute over a child he fathered with Carpenter's sister.

Complete Court TV coverage of the Carpenter trial  

"Having been convicted of contract murder, I have no difficulty imposing this sentence," Devlin said. "Miss Carpenter, you among all the people involved, it was you who could have and should have stopped this insane notion that killing Buzz Clinton would solve the problem concerning Rebecca."

The murder victim's mother, Dee Clinton, spoke out in court before the sentencing, saying that she hoped Carpenter would "see the fires of hell" when she died in prison.

"I told my children their brother was tried, convicted and executed by people decided they have the right," Clinton told the assembled. "They decided that Buzz did not have the right to life ..., that the death penalty was appropriate for him."

Carpenter tossed her long, red hair back as Clinton read her statement but did not otherwise react. She sobbed as her mother, Cynthia Carpenter, said an injustice has been done by her conviction and imprisonment.

"No one should have to die as Buzz did. I empathize with the family but Beth is not guilty," Cynthia Carpenter said. "This is a terrible injustice. I pray daily Mr. Clein will come forward wit the truth and Beth will come home where she belongs."

During the trial, the defense painted Clein as a drug-addicted, thieving adulterer who was obsessed with Beth Carpenter. She testified that she had no idea that Clein was involved in her brother-in-law's murder until he told her in a New York hotel room four days after it happened.

Carpenter's lawyer, Hugh Keefe, told the court that his client was remaining silent because she had already testified during the trial and that she had nothing to be remorseful about. But on the stand this spring, Carpenter could not recall many details about events that occurred more than seven years before and stuck to her position that anything Clein did he did on his own.

The events leading up to the killing began when Carpenter's parents fought in family court with Clinton over the care and custody of Rebecca Carpenter, Beth Carpenter's niece. Rebecca's mother, Kim Carpenter, met Buzz Clinton at a club where he worked as an exotic dancer in 1992 and the couple married the following January after she became pregnant.

Although Kim Carpenter's parents considered her to be an unfit mother, they dropped their custody fight and the child was shuttled back and forth between the Clinton and Carpenter homes pursuant to a court-approved schedule.

There was tremendous hostility, however, and Buzz Clinton was threatening to move with Rebecca and his wife to Arizona -- beyond the reach of Kim and Beth's parents.

Clein testified that three weeks into his affair with Beth Carpenter she begged him to kill Clinton. Clein later used stolen client funds to pay his cocaine connection, a longtime law client, to shoot Buzz Clinton.

Clinton, a certified nurses' assistant, believed he was meeting with a man who wanted to buy his tow truck when he was shot five times at close range on the side of an Interstate 84 off ramp. He died on the spot as gunman Mark Depres, who brought his 15-year-old son along for the ride, sped off.

Finding her guilty on April 12, jurors rejected the defense's contention that Clein ordered the killing of a man he never met just to make his much-younger mistress beholden to him forever. Carpenter was found guilty of capital felony murder, murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Although contract killings are punishable by death in Connecticut, gunman Mark Depres and co-conspirator Haiman Clein avoided death row by entering into plea agreements calling for sentences of no more than 45 years in prison.

Carpenter avoided the death penalty by relocating to Ireland. Ireland agreed to extradite Carpenter in 1999 after prosecutors assured officials there that Carpenter would not face the death penalty if convicted.

The defense team tried unsuccessfully Friday to introduce police reports that raised allegations against Buzz Clinton but Devlin agreed with prosecutor Kevin Kane that the effort amounted to putting the victim on trial. "They paint a picture of emotional abuse, physical abuse, threats of murder, drug abuse and drug trafficking," Keefe said.

Dee Clinton yelled "Bye, Sunshine" to Keefe as he left the courtroom. She told reporters that the allegations amounted to "poppycock" and nothing more. Defense lawyer Tara Knight said outside the courthouse that Keefe just wanted to "correct the record" created by Clinton's family that suggested that he was law-abiding, devoted family man.

"Just because someone dies doesn't make them a saint all of a sudden," Knight said.

In his remarks, Devlin was notably low-key and did not chastise the defendant as Connecticut judges often do after murder convictions. "To me, this case is largely about a tremendous loss of human potential," Devlin said.

Had he lived, Buzz Clinton would have been 36 years old.

Haiman Clein and Mark Depres each face a maximum of 45 years in prison when they are sentenced later this year.

Co-conspirator Joseph Fremut, who helped Depres plan the murder, was free on pre-trial bond when he died of cancer early this year.

Rebecca Carpenter, now 12, lives with Richard and Cynthia Carpenter and sees her mother, Kim, only on Saturdays.

Beth Carpenter will serve her sentence at the state's prison for women in Niantic while her lawyers pursue appeals.





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