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Colin Beavan on forensics in the Levy case

Colin Beavan is the author of "Fingerprints: The origins of crime detection and the murder case that launched forensic science."

CNN: Welcome to Newsroom, Colin Beavan. We're pleased to have you with us today.

COLIN BEAVAN: Thank you all for inviting me to participate in your chat.

CNN: You researched the history and applications of fingerprinting in criminal investigations. Although the Chandra Levy case is not a criminal case at this point, might the police be using fingerprinting in order to help solve this case?

BEAVAN: They won't be just using fingerprinting per se, but fingerprinting and all its sibling forensic sciences. For example, recently they searched a car that was used to drive Condit, like a limosine, and I imagine they'd use fingerprints to check for Levy's prints in the car, and maybe in the trunk of the car, for example. The other forensic sciences they'll use, for instance in the search of his apartment. They found one long hair, and two stains on a curtain that they thought could possibly be blood.

Missing persons cases are handled with certain procedures. Police tell CNN's Eileen O'Connor how that applies to the Levy case (July 16)

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CNN's Bob Franken reports on where police are searching for Chandra Levy (July 16)

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Condit's attorney says Condit passed important questions on polygraph test (July 13)

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Map of Rock Creek Park  (pdf)
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Message board: The case of the missing intern  
Photo Gallery: Composite images of Chandra Levy released by police  
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Polygraph facts  
Police scour D.C. park in Levy search
On the Scene: Bob Franken on the Levy disappearance probe
On the Scene: Jonathan Karl on how Condit story is playing on Capitol Hill

The reason that fingerprints might not be too useful in the search of Condit's apartment is because Levy had what they call "legitimate access" to Condit's apartment. That is to say that because they already knew that the two were having an affair, it would be logical to find her fingerprints there, unless they found the fingerprints of someone they didn't expect to be in his or her apartment, or unless Condit told the police that she'd never been to his apartment.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Will they start looking for footprints and fingerprints in the D.C. park, not like the floor fingerprints, but on seats, tables, etc.?

BEAVAN: I think that the only chance that they'd use them in the park is if they find some sort of suspicious activity in the park. For instance, if they were to find a body, they may use shoe print analysis in the ground around the body. If they found a weapon, they'd look for prints there. But it's not likely they'd be taking prints from picnic tables, benches, etc., because they're so exposed to the elements, and so many people touch them. And there's so many tables, benches, etc., that the manpower to check each print from each one would be enormous.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Colin, from what's being presented to the public, is this case cold?

BEAVAN: It seems from what we hear, and of course we don't hear everything, that there aren't any hot leads to follow. My understanding is that now suicide is likely ruled out, because while a person can commit suicide, they can't then bury their own body. So, if she had committed suicide, her body would have shown up by now.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What mistakes do you think have been made in the Levy investigation?

BEAVAN: One mistake that gets talked about so much is that it took so long before the investigation really took off. It's now been ten weeks since she disappeared. The only thing that seems to make this case special to people other than the family of Chandra Levy is its possible connection with the Congressman. Something like 60 people go missing in the District of Columbia every month, and within the last couple of years, two other interns disappeared. Adults who go missing normally just don't get as much attention from the police as this case is getting. So, the criticism that it took so long to investigate it is one that people might level at every missing persons investigation.

CNN: What kinds of tests are the police probably doing on the items removed from Rep. Gary Condit's apartment?

BEAVAN: They're certainly doing a hair test analysis, and they did find a couple of stains on the curtain slats, which they thought could possibly be blood, so they'd be doing hair analysis, DNA analysis and blood analysis. Apparently they took boxes of things out of his apartment, and they may be trying get fingerprint samples from them, or DNA from them.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Even if the hair turns out to be Chandra's, what will that prove, if they know she's been there?

BEAVAN: That's a good point. The only thing I can think of that it would prove is that she'd been there, and that would only cause a problem if he had said they'd never had a liason in his apartment, in which case they would have caught him in a lie that he would have to explain.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Will they look inside the building that she found on the computer?

BEAVAN: Apparently, she searched the Internet for the location of this mansion nearby, and so they thought that maybe she would be going there. The mansion is on a park with running trails. So they'll probably search the house and grounds. Mentioning her computer is another good point, because another test they're doing is forensic computer analysis, where they can look at a computer hard drive, and reconstruct the actions that the computer's operator, in this case, Chandra Levy, took. Of course, the use of computer forensics is relatively modern since the Internet boom.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What motives could Condit (or others) have to make Chandra disappear?

BEAVAN: What the police think is that Condit might possibly have the motive of making her disappear so he could keep secrets that might otherwise ruin his career. Then there are the other people connected to Condit, seeking to protect him. But of course, as the police say, Condit is not a suspect, and just because he may possibly have a motive doesn't mean that he's involved in the disappearance at all. We still have a long way to go to find that out.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: When was the last time Chandra and Condit spoke on the telephone? Are there any recent phone records?

BEAVAN: I haven't seen any reference to phone records, just that I believe he said he talked to her the day of, or within a couple of days of her disappearance, by phone. Presumably, if the phone records had revealed anything other than what Condit had said, they would have been leaked to the press by now.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: The family seems to believe Condit is "holding out." Have they indicated why?

BEAVAN: In the beginning of the investigation, Condit was interviewed twice, and both times lied about the nature of his relationship with Levy. Prior to the second interview, he actually tried to avoid the police, so that he wouldn't have to have the second interview. Plus, I think they believe that he isn't telling everything. But the question is, is his behavior suspicious because he's complicit in her disappearance, or is he simply seeking to hide details that have nothing to do with her disappearance, but could further damage his career? It seems likely that he would try to keep the whole thing secret in the early stages, not necessarily because he has part in Levy's disappearance, but merely because he wants to hide the fact of his illicit affairs from his wife, his friends, his colleagues, and his constituents.

CNN: Will anything be learned from the lie detector test that Mr. Condit said he took?

BEAVAN: The problem with the lie detector test is that it works by testing physiological response. Presumably, if the lie detector test given by Condit's own expert had shown any questionable answers, it certainly wouldn't have been released to the public. That means that the fear that Condit experienced, or might have experienced, if he told a lie, might not have been there. ... because there was no strong physiological reaction. The police are arguing that the results might have been different if the test had been administered in the police interrogation room, with police present.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why hasn't the media or Condit or the Levy's addressed the building where Chandra lived and any video showing her going to the entrance door?

BEAVAN: I haven't read anything about video. I wonder if there is a video camera. There was, however, a 911 call to her street very early in the morning of her disappearance, an investigation of screams heard. By the time the police got there, however, there was nothing to be found. Investigators think that call had nothing to do with the case, because they found three hours of activity on Levy's computer after that call.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: The police efforts at the sketches of the way in which Chandra may be disguising herself seemed a little silly. Are they seriously searching for this girl, or are they playing a game with the media to corner Condit?

BEAVAN: If she has run away, and is trying to remain hidden, or if she's been abducted, and her kidnappers have deliberately changed her appearance, the police sketches with the changes are important. In fact, this need for the different pictures illustrates the importance of fingerprinting as a method of identification, since fingerprints remain permanent, while all of us can change our appearance.

CNN: Do you have final thoughts for us today?

BEAVAN: It's really important that all of us suspend our judgment of this case until some strong evidence is found to indicate that it's going one way or another. It's still important to remember that guilt or innocence is determined in a court of law, where all the facts are presented together, not in the newspapers and media, where each fact is sensationalized one at a time.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Colin Beavan.

BEAVAN: Thank you so much, all of you, for being here and showing interest.

Colin Beaven joined the chat via telephone from Baltimore, MD. CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Tuesday, July 17, 2001.

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