Levy case still puzzles police

04/28/2002 9:45 AM

11/20/2007 10:14 AM

WASHINGTON -- Investigators know more about Chandra Levy and Gary Condit than anyone can imagine.

They have scooped up reams of Condit's office documents, interviewed more than 100 people, prowled parks and reportedly pulled Condit in before a grand jury. They have used polygraphs and profilers; they have heard from psychics and fanatics.

"None of that has led us anywhere," Police Chief Charles Ramsey said.

Their mission is to find Levy, who disappeared a year ago this week. The Modesto woman would be 25 now.

Within days of the public announcement of her disappearance, Congressman Condit went from being a "friend" who donated $10,000 to a reward fund to being the center of a media maelstrom when friends revealed e-mails that Levy had sent them regarding a mystery man she was dating. She would not name him, but said he was connected to Congress.

Condit, who turned 54 a week ago, never has been identified as a suspect in Levy's disappearance, but authorities have interviewed him four times.

Multiple news organizations say Condit told police that he and Levy had an affair. Condit has not acknowledged or denied that.

The Ceres Democrat distanced himself from the press most of last year, even during his unsuccessful campaign for an eighth term in Congress, and he continues to turn down Bee requests for interviews.

Some top-notch government investigators remain on the case, including several federal prosecutors trained in the art of solving murder mysteries. The Levy family has hired two private detectives, who likewise say they are continuing to plug away, spending upward of eight hours a week on the case.

"I feel the Levys' pain," private detective Dwayne Stanton said, "and we will work on this to the very end, no matter what."

But all the facts collected in investigations now nearing a one-year anniversary do not add up to a complete picture. Stanton, an 18-year veteran of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, said: "We have a couple of different theories that we're still exploring."

Police know little more about what happened to Levy now than they did the day that they received the first, frantic phone call from her father in May.

And the trail keeps getting colder.

"At one point, we were getting up to 40 or 50 calls a day," Ramsey said. "We haven't been getting anything like the leads we were before Sept. 11. Now it's one a day, if that."

Case on one man's 'to-do' list

The Washington detective who handled the Levy case last year, Ralph Durant, still has the case on his to-do list.

Durant and his partner first interviewed Condit in his Washington condominium several days after Levy disappeared -- an interview that prompted strikingly different recollections.

"I did what I thought I was supposed to do, and that was to tell law enforcement everything that I knew about Chandra and about the case. And I did that. I did it within 48 hours," Condit said on CNN's "Larry King Live" in February. "I told them everything."

Police say otherwise. Deputy Police Chief Terry Gainer noted that it took until a third interview, more than two months after Levy disappeared, before investigators felt satisfied with Condit's full accounting of his relationship with Levy.

The contradiction seems stark. The explanation, though, might be nuanced: Condit thought police could read between the lines in his initial description of where and how often he and Levy saw each other. It was only when police asked explicitly about the nature of the relationship that Condit put them off, asking what that had to do with the search for Levy.

Those early crossed wires continued sparking throughout the summer, as Condit retreated further into silence and police amp-ed up their expressions of frustration until the third interview occurred.

In many public respects, the Levy investigation showed massive effort, as when 50 police cadets searched Washington parks. In other respects, as in the inability to make timely use of the Levy apartment security videotape, investigators failed to cover some bases early on.

"Police officers and the community missed some opportunities in the first few weeks," said Abbe Lowell, Condit's former attorney. "And having lost that opportunity, it was hard to get it back."

At the same time, Lowell praised individual efforts of detectives, such as Durant and FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett.

Chief Ramsey said he did not know how much time Durant still spends on the Levy case, on top of all the other open cases the detective has.

Prosecutors actively involved

The federal government appears to be more active. Two prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia, Roderick Thomas and Steven Durham, are in charge of the investigation.

Thomas is a 37-year-old Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Denison University and Yale Law School. Durham is a 40-year-old graduate of the University of Chicago and Northwestern University Law School. He brings, as well, a particularly pointed expertise to the Levy case.

"He was one of our homicide assistants, and he's got a lot of experience in that, so he's good for this case," said David Schertler, a Washington attorney who formerly headed the homicide section of the U.S. attorney's office. "Steven has an outstanding reputation as a very capable prosecutor."

Thomas and Durham oversaw the subpoena issued to Condit last fall, demanding a number of office documents. Under House of Representatives' rules, Condit was forced to disclose the issuance of that subpoena. He has not subsequently disclosed the issuance of any more subpoenas.

Nonetheless, The Washington Post cited anonymous sources in reporting that Condit was scheduled before a grand jury April 12 in response to a subpoena. Neither Condit nor his attorney Mark Geragos has disputed that account.

The first subpoena had to be disclosed because it sought material from Condit's congressional office. House rules require such publication for subpoenas "relating to the official functions of the House or for the production or disclosure of any document relating to the official functions of the House."

A subsequent demand that Condit testify, even if it came in the form of another subpoena, could arguably be exempt from the disclosure requirement because he would not be testifying about House actions.

The District of Columbia Superior Court grand jury investigating the Levy case and its aftermath convenes on the second floor of a building five blocks from the Capitol. Sixteen to 24 grand jurors sit in what looks much like a terraced classroom, save for a witness box.

Defense attorneys are not in the room during grand jury questioning, but they can be consulted outside. Typically, three grand juries are meeting in Washington at any one time.

Neither of Condit's two top staff members, Mike Lynch and Mike Dayton, has been asked to testify. Nor have others who knew Levy well, including her aunt Linda Zamsky, raising questions of both the pace and ultimate goal of the investigation.

"I haven't been notified or told of anything that's happening with this case, whatsoever," Zamsky said.

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

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