Condit factor looms at trial of Levy murder suspect

October 20, 2010 

WASHINGTON – Former California congressman Gary Condit would draw an avid crowd at Chandra Levy's murder trial, but his testimonial weight is uncertain.

Several times since Levy's 2001 disappearance, Condit has gone under oath. Skeptical attorneys have come away frustrated as he has resisted queries he deems too personal, the very kind people most want answered.

"A lot of the time today has been wasted, and I believe that's due to (Condit's) extended unresponsive answers," attorney Paul LiCalsi declared at the end of a day-long deposition in September 2004.

Now, Condit could face his most intrusive questioning in years. This week, prosecutors identified him as one of about 50 individuals who might be summoned to testify, or whose name might pop up, in the trial of accused killer Ingmar Guandique.

No other individual associated with Condit's 30-year-long political career was named as a potential witness. So far, assistant U.S. attorneys Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez are mum about the timing and reasons for a potential Condit appearance — as well as its actual likelihood.

Mentioning his name is certainly a tactical call by prosecutors. One theory is that it recognizes Condit's outsized role in the long-running Chandra Levy narrative.

"Condit is like the big elephant in the room," Loyola University Law School professor, and former prosecutor, Laurie Levenson said Tuesday. "If I were the prosecution, I would want to dispel any idea that he might be the killer."

At the least, Levenson added, adding Condit to the potential witness list keeps prosecutors' trial options open.

Former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein noted Tuesday that "it's the attorneys' obligation to make sure that any names that might come up in a trial" are mentioned to potential jurors.

LiCalsi offered yet another theory, suggesting prosecutors might be floating Condit's name as "a fake to get the defense to waste precious preparation time."

Still, Los Angeles attorney Bert Fields, who said he has "advised Mr. Condit from time to time over a period of years," said he expects the former San Joaquin Valley lawmaker to be called as a witness.

"(If called), he will testify and cooperate fully, as he has from the beginning," Fields said in an e-mail.

Fields is at least the eighth attorney to assist Condit or his wife in various matters since 2001; all related, one way or another, to Levy's disappearance and its aftermath.

The 24-year-old Levy disappeared May 1, 2001. Prosecutors charge Guandique with killing the former Modesto resident during an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

Jury selection began Monday in Guandique's trial.

Levy's 2001 disappearance led to revelations about her relationship with Condit. He subsequently lost his House seat, and filed a number of defamation lawsuits against tabloid newspapers and others. Twice, he was placed under oath for depositions that did not always prove fruitful.

"He was instructed by his attorney not to answer virtually every question, based on the Fifth Amendment," Denver-based attorney Thomas B. Kelley recalled Tuesday, adding that "it's uncommon to have a (former) congressman take the Fifth, but that was the advice of his counsel."

Kelley was representing the National Enquirer, sued by Condit's wife Carolyn. The $10 million lawsuit was settled out of court in 2003.

The next year, Condit submitted to a deposition as part of a defamation suit filed against the late author Dominick Dunne. Condit declined during the deposition to offer specifics about his ties to Levy, besides saying "it wasn't a romantic relationship."

"I think romantic is a very non-descriptive term," Condit added. "Some people think some things are romantic, some people think they're not romantic. But I saw no romance in our friendship."

LiCalsi called Condit "one of the worst witnesses I've ever seen," and a judge subsequently ordered Condit to answer intimately detailed questions. Several hours before that second deposition was to take place, Condit and Dunne settled their case.

Separately, Condit was summoned to appear at least once before a federal grand jury. The details of his degree of cooperation remain officially secret.

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