Media frenzy returns as Levy case heats up

But this time those involved know better what to expect

February 24, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- Once more, satellite trucks are stacked outside Washington, D.C., police headquarters. Cable television shows are turning to the case. Reporters and producers are besieging Chandra Levy's parents by phone, and national papers are sending journalists to the Levy's hometown of Modesto.

The story is unfolding much as it did when Chandra Levy disappeared in 2001.

"When this broke, it was like it was before," public relations specialist Judy Smith, who is advising Levy's parents, said Tuesday. "It was like no time had passed."

Levy, a 24-year-old former intern for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, disappeared after leaving her Washington apartment in jogging clothes. A man walking his dog found her skull and bones in Rock Creek Park a year later.

The case attracted widespread attention over allegations that Levy had been romantically involved with married Rep. Gary Condit, D-Ceres. Condit lost his seat in the March 2002 primary.

The media minifrenzy is building in anticipation of a case-breaking announcement.

On Friday night, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier called the Levys and said investigators would soon seek an arrest warrant for the man suspected of killing their daughter. Lanier did not name the suspect.

Lanier's call, delivered about 10 p.m. East Coast time, was a reflection of the media role in the nearly eight-year-old case.

Police officials had learned that television reporter Pat Collins, with Washington's WRC-TV, was going to be breaking the story about the pending arrest warrant on the station's 11 p.m. newscast. By calling, Lanier could ensure that the family first learned the news from a top police official, one already known to the Levys.

"I like her," Susan Levy said of Lanier.

A D.C. Superior Court judge had not issued the arrest warrant as of Tuesday night. Typically, investigators will present prosecutors with a draft warrant along with accompanying evidence showing probable cause. Prosecutors then refine the document before presenting it to a judge.

Smith knew what was coming the minute she heard the news about the pending arrest warrant. Now president of the Washington-based firm Impact Strategies, Smith in 2001 and 2002 handled press relations for Levy and the family's then-lawyer, Billy Martin. She said she called the family over the weekend to offer help with the media crush.

The broader media environment has changed. On Monday, for instance, Susan Levy published an essay about her daughter in The Daily Beast. Although Levy's message was a familiar one, the online periodical published by the former editor of The New Yorker magazine did not exist in 2001.

"We've had to come to terms with Chandra's relationship with Condit and realize that it played a major role in the coverage of the case," Levy wrote.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.

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