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Beth Ann Carpenter said she feared courtroom work, finding it “very intimidating” and wanted a career in transactional work when she started practice in 1992. But last week she was in the thick of it — sometimes in tears — as the surprise star witness at her own murder-for-hire case, joining the battle to keep her from a life prison sentence. “Intimidating” only begins to describe this. For most of the nine-week trial, defense lawyers Hugh F. Keefe and Tara Knight looked like they might not have to put her on, making their case by blasting the character and credibility of Carpenter’s former boss and law office lover, Haiman L. Clein, the state’s key witness. They injected some grounds for reasonable doubt March 28, when a surprise prisoner witness outlined the defense theme. Convicted murderer Paul Francis testified that over chess and cards, Clein admitted that Carpenter had “nothing to do with the murder,” and admitted hiring law office client Mark Despres to gun down Carpenter’s brother-in-law, Anson “Buzz” Clinton III eight years ago. The state contends Carpenter and Clein engineered the hit to gain custody of 3-year-old Rebecca, Carpenter’s niece. It contends the Carpenter family feared that Rebecca was at risk from her parents, Beth’s neglectful sister Kim, and new stepfather Buzz Clinton, who fought their efforts. The defense contends family court solutions were satisfactory to all. Convict Francis testified Clein was vengefully lying because Carpenter helped the FBI nab him. Francis said he’d later shared a cell and became “close” with confessed hit man Despres for seven months, and was testifying for Carpenter because she was innocent and Clein’s story was “dirty.” Once Carpenter took the stand April 2, before a startled courtroom, Keefe elicited that she’s a lawyer admitted in New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. Carpenter broke into tears as she described how Clein revealed his deadly role, in a New York hotel room a few days after the March 10, 1994 murder. “He was laughing, gloating,” and she was appalled, saying, “What were you thinking? You’d have to be crazy to do something like this!” Clein, she said, replied that he’d made the world a better place, and that Clinton was a “scumbag.” LAID BARE Although most murder trials allow an autopsy-like insight into private lives and thought, the Carpenter case goes further. Clein, in a deal with the state to avoid the death penalty, waived all his attorney-client and physician-client privileges, and is yet to be sentenced. That let Keefe get fly-on-the-wall testimony from Clein’s personal psychologist during the years leading up to the murder. It showed Clein disintegrating from roaring 1980s successes into a spiral of depravity. He graduated from Prozac to a cocaine habit costing $500 to $1000 a week, topped off with Bombay Sapphire Gin and Stolichnaya “by the glassful,” as an optometrist friend testified. The stately shoreline community of Old Saybrook, Conn., has been roiled by trial testimony of wife-swapping parties at Clein’s expensive home there. Carpenter explained why she and Clein drove to the Meriden, Conn., offices of defense lawyer Robert M. Axelrod on June 2, 1994, when Clein was seeking a lawyer for Despres. After consultation, Clein realized he needed Axelrod for himself. Clein’s friend Axelrod declined to represent or speak with Carpenter. Instead, Clein drove Carpenter to New Haven, Conn., retaining Keefe with a $5,000 check illegally drawn on his client’s account. Initially, prosecutor Kevin Kane forced Keefe to withdraw due to his potential role as a witness, but under a stipulated agreement and partial waiver of Carpenter’s client privilege, he’s her special public defender at a modest $60 per hour. FLEE COLLAR Carpenter had to explain why, if innocent, she needed the services of Keefe, the highest-profile criminal defense specialist in Connecticut. The 11-man-four-woman bank of jurors and alternates stared while Carpenter said she “wanted to know what was going on.” State troopers had interviewed her father and asked him to take a polygraph, and she feared being drawn in, “because Haiman was my boyfriend, and Buzz was my brother-in-law.” She later needed Keefe’s aid in negotiating her departure from Clein’s firm. In August of 1995, Carpenter said she’d learned of a job opening with a former law school classmate, Ali Bagherzadeh, who had worked as an associate in New York for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, one of the nation’s largest law firms with offices internationally. In late October, 1995, Carpenter got an expedited passport and flew to London, where she said she did work with “Ali” on a banking project in Romania. After staying with his parents for about two weeks, she moved to another London apartment, and engaged in some volunteer charity work. While Keefe, on direct, worked to show her trip to England and Ireland as advancement of a career in international law, Kane quizzed whether she returned for Christmas, as planned. “I was assisting in the apprehension of Haiman Clein,” Carpenter replied. She admitted also missing her brother’s wedding. While Carpenter testified she’d changed locks on her apartment three times in an effort to break off her affair with Clein, she was forced to admit she couldn’t let Clein go. Embarrassingly, Kane asked whether Carpenter had driven to Clein’s Waterford, Conn., home, waving a pair of his underwear and proclaiming to his wife “the affair’s still on.” She said she didn’t remember that, nor could she recall one of Clein’s four small children attempting to drive her off with a slingshot. She said she hasn’t stopped being ashamed of her affair with a married man, and wasn’t proud of the disruptive “scenes.” Intriguingly, Keefe’s questions revealed that she had been working closely with him and authorities — Scotland Yard, the FBI and Connecticut’s fugitive task force — in helping to foil Clein’s desperate cross-country flight to California that ended in February 1996. A penniless Clein was speaking to Carpenter from a pay phone at a Sunset Beach, Calif., 7-Eleven when he was tackled by two agents and wrestled to the ground. “You set me up,” were his last words to her.

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