Murder: The Case against Condit


Thought Exercise #2

Murder is not the crime of criminals, but that of law-abiding citizens.

- Emmanuel Teney

by attorney Don B Kates

My thesis here is that, based on all the available evidence, Congressman Condit is the leading suspect in Chandra Levy's death.  In arguing this, I begin with a crucial disclaimer: I have no knowledge of the "facts" except those which have been reported in the media.  These "facts" may be false - inventions of the people who have reported them, or the product of misreporting.  Insofar as these "facts" are not facts, the inferences I draw from them do not hold, and the Congressman may be entirely innocent.

I begin with facts about homicide which have been established in decades of consistent research: when men are killed, the murderer is most often another man and the motive varies widely, with sexual relationship being only one (nor is the relationship generally between the men).  In contrast, the facts surrounding the murder of women are easily summarised as they are in the following quotes from three different articles in the November 1998 "Femicide" issue of the criminological journal Homicide Studies:

bullet[Research has long] shown that when a woman is killed, the offender is typically her intimate male partner.
bulletIn fact, American women are more likely killed by their male partners than by anybody else.
bulletIn fact, a woman is more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than by all other categories of known assailants combined.

So those who decry questioning the Congressman about his "personal life" (read: sexual relationship with Chandra) are committing a fundamental error in disregard of well-established criminological fact about cases in which women are murdered.  They are ruling out a line of inquiry which is the veritable starting point of any competent investigation into such murders.

Albeit with great reluctance, the Congressman belatedly admitted that he was having a sexual relationship with Chandra Levy.  Of course this does not absolutely preclude the possibility that she was killed by someone else.  Remember that my argument here is not that he actually killed her but that, given the "facts" so far developed, he is the leading suspect.  Indeed, he is the only specific suspect.

Other Relationships?

The point was pithily expressed by journalist Ann Coulter who summarised the foregoing facts adding the rhetorical question: "Was she involved in a relationship with someone else?"

Rhetorical though it was, shortly after this question was posed, Congressman Condit's specially hired PR flack began promoting a rumour that Chandra Levy was highly promiscuous, an avid participant in "one night stands."  At first glance this seems a natural ploy for Congressman Condit.  After all, it raised the possibility of Chandra Levy having been murdered by some sinister "Mr Goodbar" she encountered in the course of her sexual hijinks.  But on closer examination it turned out not only not to help the Congressman, but to reinforce suspicions of his guilt.

First of all, the "promiscuous Chandra" ploy appears to be factually baseless.  The Congressman's publicity flack did not assert any personal knowledge as a basis for claiming Chandra Levy engaged in a succession of one night stands.  No, the only asserted basis for this ploy was a still unpublished article by a journalist.  Significantly, that journalist did not step forward to support the claim on which the ploy rested, and others who were aware of the research said that it did not support it.

Being baseless, this ploy provided no reason to suspect anyone other than the Congressman.  But it provided significant, though equivocal, evidence of his guilt.  Why would he have sent forth a PR flack to try to defame Chandra Levy?  It was very unhelpful to his NON-criminal interest, that is, his interest in being reelected.  As to that, some of his constituents forgave his sexual transgressions while others were outraged by his conduct.  But neither group appears to have found Condit's the-girl-was-a-slut defense to be a mitigating factor in either adultery or his reticence and deceptiveness to the police (when making a full disclosure might have been instrumental in saving her life - if you assume that he did not kill her himself, of course).

Thus his attempt to defame Chandra undermined his chances of re-election, especially as his constituents saw the pain this ploy inflicted on her grieving parents as a reason for not voting for him even when they otherwise may have done so.

So why did the ex-Congressman launch his high-risk campaign of defamation, given the miniscule potential gain?  There is only one explanation: this is a man desperately trying to avoid possible criminal indictment and conviction by fabricating a "Mr Goodbar" spectre to distract attention from himself as suspect.

The Question of Motivation

Analysis of potential motives provides further reason to suspect the Congressman.  Looking at the kinds of motivation that normally underlie murder readily substantiates the statistic that if it is a woman who has been killed, the killer is more likely to be a man who has been intimate with her than to fall into all the other categories of murderer combined.

This is obviously true when the male party to the relationship is a prominent married man whose career was as an elected public official.  At the same time, the likelihood of other kinds of murder motives is diminished as to victims with Chandra's characteristics.  She was not, for instance, a wealthy woman who might have been killed by an impatient potential heir.

In general, the single outstanding characteristic of murder victims in general (ignoring differences between male and female victims), is that most victims are engaged in criminal activities and are killed by other criminals.

  1. Philadelphia, "84% of [murder] victims in 1990 had antemortem drug use or criminal history."
  2. In Washington, DC where Chandra Levy disappeared, 80% of homicides are drug-related.
  3. In New Orleans 85% of autopsied murder victims are positive for metabolites of cocaine.

Contrast these statistics with the facts about Chandra Levy.  None have come to light suggesting she was a criminal or involved in drugs.  So we can (at least tentatively) dismiss such common motives as: that her murderer was a drug dealer eliminating a competing drug dealer, a dealer or addict dying in the course of a rip-off; et cetera, et cetera.

Thus the kinds of motives that result in most murders are not present here.  What likely motives are left?  Robbery-murder is a possibility.  But women are far less often murdered in the course of robberies than are men, for women are much less likely to resist.  Chandra Levy would presumably be even less likely than most if, as has been reported, her purse and wallet are still in her apartment.  If she just ran out to the store with a couple of dollars to buy something, why would she not have readily turned that over to a robber?

A further consideration is that, in the unlikely event of a robber murdering her, he would most probably just leave her body where he killed her.  Why would he move her body away as was apparently done in this case?  The first priority of most murderers is to separate themselves from their victim.  All other things being equal, no murderer wants to risk getting caught red-handed with a dead body (or transporting one).  The same consideration argues against suggestions that Chandra was killed by a serial murderer.

To this, of course there is an obvious exception: where a victim is murdered on the killer's own premises, he will need to do something about the body.  It has been suggested that the killer may have been a serial murderer or rapist who lived in or near Chandra Levy's apartment building and managed to force or inveigle her into his premises.  If so, he might kill her to avoid her reporting him to the police, and then have to dispose of the body.  (It should be noted, however, that while rapists are often viciously cruel to their victims, very rarely do they kill, even when the victim is someone who can report them.)

Thus serial murder or rape-murder is an even less probable scenario than is robbery-murder.  A further point about where the body was found is that the person it argues most strongly for is the Congressman.  He is far more likely to have encountered her in some private place than a rapist or robber or serial murderer.  Moreover, the Congressman might have a special reason to try to dispose of the body in such a manner that it was difficult to find.  What if the "big news" Chandra was going to tell her aunt was that Chandra was pregnant by him - or what if he had just deposited his semen in her (especially since he told police that he had ended their "special relationship")?

Suspect Number One

In sum, when we focus on motive, the Congressman comes in as Suspect Number One.  A married man who now concedes that he was having an intimate relationship with a woman may have obvious and multiple motives for murdering her.  And such a man may have urgent reasons to dispose of her body rather than letting it lie where it would be found.  In contrast, hypotheses about serial murderers, rape murderers or robbery murderers are mere errant speculation; and further hypothesizing a situation in which that person is also going to feel it necessary to take the risks entailed in disposing of a body in piling speculation upon speculation.

In addressing this topic, I am reminded of an ironic observation some reporter or commentator made: if poor Chandra did just happen to run into a serial killer who murdered her, Gary Condit is the unluckiest philanderer alive.  Based on the "facts" so far available, Congressman Condit adds a new dimension to Mark Twain's remark about congressmen being America's only distinctive criminal class.

Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kates attended Reed College and Yale Law School.  During his law school years ago he was a law clerk to renowned radical defense attorney William Kunstler and a civil rights worker in the South. He has written OpEds in the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal and a host of articles in law reviews and other scholarly journals.

Source: (this link is now broken)

Five Years Later, Intern's Murder Still a Mystery

by Mike Weiss

Although he is no longer an FBI agent, Brad Garrett still visits the steep, wooded hillside in a Washington, DC, park where the skeletal remains of Chandra Levy, a federal intern from Modesto, California, were found 5 years ago this week, a year after she disappeared.  No one has been charged in the killing of the 24-year-old, whose disappearance generated enormous publicity after authorities revealed that she had been having a relationship with her married hometown congressman, Gary Condit.  The Democrat was defeated in 2002 by his former aide, Dennis Cardoza.

"The key to cold cases is being creative," Garrett, a private investigator and a consultant to ABC News, said in a phone interview.  Until his mandatory retirement last year at the age of 58, Garrett was a high-profile agent who had solved some of the bureau's most intractable cases - but not the Levy slaying.  "I go to Rock Creek Park sometimes, yeah, and go over the crime scene, over and over again," he said.  "What have I missed?  The whole atmospherics is very important.  It's very frustrating that it's not resolved.  It's troubling."

On 1 May 2001, Levy used her computer in her apartment in the Dupont Circle area of northwest Washington to look up the National Park Service headquarters in Rock Creek Park, about a mile distant.  She had recently completed an internship at the US Bureau of Prisons and planned to return to Modesto, according to her mother, Susan Levy.  Friends and family became alarmed when Levy was not heard from, and a search began.  It wasn't until a year and 3 weeks later, on 22 May 2002, that her remains were found in the 1,700-acre park.

"It's the first thing I think about every morning," Susan Levy, the young woman's mother, said in a recent telephone interview.  "You think 6 years heals, but it doesn't."  Last summer, the family set up a website - - in the hope that an anonymous tip might lead to the killer.  On Wednesday, Susan Levy will be in Washington to meet with the police chief, something she has done every year since her daughter disappeared, her lawyer, Steve Mandell, said in an e-mail.  The Washington Metropolitan Police Department lists the death as one of 6,000 cold cases.  Since the intern's disappearance, the case has been investigated by Detective Ralph Durant, a 37-year veteran of the department.  In a phone interview, Durant said, "There are still persons of interest, yes, but we can't tell you who they are.  We still get phone calls and e-mails."

In 2001, authorities interrogated a Salvadoran refugee now in prison for attacking two other young women in Rock Creek Park.  But no charges were filed against him in the Levy case.

Levy's body was discovered by a man searching for turtles.  Her remains, which had been exposed to heat, snow, rain and humidity, were far enough down a steep grade that she was invisible from the trail, where Garrett believes she was walking when whatever happened to her occurred on a pleasant spring day.  Over the past 6 years, there have been a handful of leads worth following up, he said.  None has yielded a suspect.

Initially, media attention focused on Condit, the Modesto lawmaker 30 years Levy's senior.  Police have said repeatedly that they do not consider him a suspect.  In the years since, Condit and his family have been embroiled in several lawsuits.  He and his wife, Carolyn, sued American Media Incorporated, publisher of the National Enquirer, claiming they had been defamed by the supermarket tabloid.  The suits were settled.  No terms were disclosed.  Condit also settled a suit against Vanity Fair magazine columnist Dominick Dunne.  Last year, the California Fair Political Practices Commission filed a $2.4 million suit against Condit's grown children, Cadee and Chad, alleging they had been improperly paid $226,000 by their father's political action committee to make a documentary film that was never produced.  Through an attorney, Condit said the lawsuit is unfounded.  A spokesman for the political watchdog agency said the case was "ongoing litigation, and we're unable to comment beyond that."

Although the senior Condits still have a home near Modesto, they spend a lot of time in Arizona, where the family opened two ice-cream shops in Glendale in 2005.  Last year, Baskin-Robbins filed a federal suit claiming that the Condits had breached their franchise agreement.  Gary Condit did not return phone calls made to his homes.

Meanwhile, Susan Levy and her husband, Robert, an oncologist, are trying to keep interest alive in the hope that new evidence or a tip eventually will lead to their daughter's killer.  "Somebody out there knows what the truth is," Susan Levy said.

E-mail Mike Weiss at mikeweiss(at)  distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

Source: San Francisco Chronicle 22 May 2007

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