A TECHNICIAN who sexually assaulted, strangled, then stuffed the body of a promising young Yale University student into a laboratory wall was sentenced to 44 years in prison in the US today.

Raymond Clark III escaped a possible death penalty trial in March when he pleaded guilty to the gruesome 2009 murder, which left the lab splattered in the blood of Annie Le, a 24-year-old, Vietnamese-American doctoral student.

Clark, 26, is not eligible for parole and will not be released before he reaches the age of 68.

A Connecticut judge passed sentence after heart-wrenching testimony from friends of the victim, whose battered, partly stripped body was found in a wall cavity in the Ivy League campus’ animal research laboratory on the day she was due to marry.

Tryong Van Bui, Le’s uncle who lives in Texas, had difficulty reading from a prepared statement.

He told the judge: “There have been numerous times I can’t close my eyes without thinking about Annie’s last thinking and moments.

“It has been all too painful to imagine the suffering and the desperation of her thoughts and feeling at the moment of her tragedy.”

As Van Bui wept, Clark bowed his head in tears.

Le’s mother, Vivian, was the first of family members to speak.

“My family has lost a beautiful soul,” she said. “My Annie, my hope and dreams are gone.”

Le’s father, Hoang Le, spoke of his daughter’s commitment to finding new treatments for chronic diseases through her lab work and said he hoped her death would not be in vain.

He said the family hoped Yale would provide greater security for all its students on campus and safer working environments.

Clark was arrested four days after Le’s body was discovered and has been imprisoned ever since.

Rubbing tears from his reddened eyes, Clark rose to speak briefly, his first public statement about the crime. “I am truly, truly sorry for taking Annie’s life,” the crew-cut, hefty man said as he looked straight ahead. “I really never wanted to harm anyone. Annie was a far better person than I ever would have been.”

Prosecutors say the petite young woman’s jaw and collarbone were broken and her back bruised in a brutal sexual assault while she was still alive.

Clark strangled her after a violent struggle that left the room splattered with blood and his face scratched. Copper-coloured beads from a necklace Le was wearing were found scattered across several rooms.

DNA of semen taken from lab pants tossed into a laundry bin matched Clark’s and DNA from a blood-stained sock and lab coat matched both Le’s and Clark’s.

Prosecutors say Le was found stuffed into a hole in the wall with her bra pulled up to her neck and her panties drawn down.

Police initially said the murder was an act of violence stemming from a workplace dispute, not a crime involving romance or sex.

In pleading guilty to sexual assault in the first degree, Clark admitted compelling Le to engage in sexual intercourse by force and he did not dispute the facts of the murder.