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MIT denies liability in Carpenter lawsuit

The father of Julia M. Carpenter filed a multimillion-dollar civil suit for wrongful death against MIT in Suffolk Superior Court on June 4. Carpenter was a sophomore at MIT when she ingested cyanide and died on April 30, 2001.

Timothy J. Carpenter of Houston alleges in the suit that MIT failed to respond appropriately to his daughter's complaints that another student in her dormitory, Charvak Prakash Karpe, had stalked and harassed her, and had invaded her privacy. Carpenter says that MIT's alleged "failure to act reasonably in connection with Karpe's conduct and Julie's reaction to it" caused her to commit suicide.

The suit also names Karpe as a defendant, along with President Charles M. Vest, several deans and the housemaster of the dormitory in which Karpe and Julia Carpenter (known as Julie) lived.

Jeffrey Swope of the law firm Palmer & Dodge, counsel for MIT, said in a statement:

"The people at MIT who knew Julie Carpenter grieve for her and her family, particularly at this time, when she would have graduated from MIT. MIT, out of respect for her family, has not commented on the circumstances surrounding Julie Carpenter's death, which are complicated and personal. The allegations in the complaint that was filed in court do not accurately portray these circumstances. But the appropriate place for MIT's response is in the court proceedings."

President Vest sent a letter on June 5 to the MIT community regarding the case via e-mail and the News Office web site. The full text is at /newsoffice/nr/2003/carpenter-vest.html.

The Vest letter said, in part, "Julie's death was a tragedy that has deeply affected her family, her friends and many others here at MIT. The allegations in the complaint do not give an accurate or complete picture of the events that preceded Julie's death, or of the concern and the care that was extended to her."

"In the coming months, you are likely to see things said about MIT in the media, and may wonder why we don't clarify or comment on these issues in a public manner. While we certainly want people to understand our perspective, the place for MIT to respond to such allegations is in court and not in the media. MIT will therefore present its defenses, and those of the members of the MIT community who were working to help Julie, in court."

"In the meantime, I hope that you will support those in our community who have been touched most closely by this tragedy and its aftermath, and that you will continue to care for all those with whom you work, study and live here at MIT."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 2003.

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