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Ex-lawyer on trial in murder-for-hire case

Sunday, April 7, 2002

NEW LONDON, Conn. -- Beth Carpenter started out as a lawyer, but she was arrested as a fugitive in Ireland where she was waiting on tables and washing dishes at a pub.

And now -- in a trial marked by sordid details of sex, drugs, money, love and betrayal -- prosecutors allege Carpenter arranged the murder of her brother-in-law because she suspected him of abusing her niece. Carpenter's ex-lover and law partner is the prosecution's star witness against her.

The jury is expected to get the case as soon as Tuesday. Prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty, but if convicted she could spend the rest of her life in prison.

The state's star witness is Haiman Clein, an admitted cocaine-snorting thief. He pleaded guilty to murder charges and was spared the death penalty in exchange for his testimony.

Carpenter, 37, and Clein are accused of hiring cocaine dealer Mark Despres of Deep River to kill Anson B. "Buzz" Clinton III in 1994.

Clinton, a one-time exotic dancer, was found shot to death on a remote road in 1994. Prosecutors say he was killed because Carpenter thought he was abusing his own daughter, her niece.

Although Clein said he hired Despres to commit the killing, Despres has recanted his initial confession and claims his son pulled the trigger.

Carpenter has taken the stand to profess her innocence.

"Was there any reason you would want Buzz Clinton dead?" defense lawyer Hugh Keefe asked her last week.

"None whatsoever," Carpenter testified.

Carpenter claims she knew nothing about Clein's involvement in the murder until he told her a few days later.

"I didn't want to believe it," she testified. "I said, 'Please, please tell me this isn't true.' He was laughing."

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