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Are Police Any Closer to Finding Chandra Levy?

Aired July 17, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, bones, shoes, and a knife: Are police any closer to finding Chandra Levy?


SUSAN LEVY, MOTHER OF CHANDRA LEVY: I want my daughter home, and I want her alive, and I want the truth to come out.

CHIEF CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. POLICE: We don't know what happened to Chandra Levy. We've got to explore all possibilities.

ABBE LOWELL, GARY CONDIT'S ATTORNEY: Congressman Condit has never been and is not now a suspect.

W. LOUIS HENNESSY, FORMER D.C. HOMICIDE COMMANDER: What they're going to be looking for is any evidence of an attempt to clean up a potential scene there.

BILLY MARTIN, LEVY FAMILY ATTORNEY: The Levy family is extremely upset with Congressman Condit.

DAVID GERGEN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": It withheld information from the police.

LOWELL: Try to see if there is somebody else out there who might have some information...

KIM PETERSEN, CAROLE SUND FOUNDATION: ... is that a family's 24- year-old daughter is missing and has not been heard from for 2 1/2 months.


COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. U.S. Park Police on horseback and police academy cadets are combing the woods of Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington, as the search for missing intern Chandra Levy continues.

Yesterday, investigators spent six hours searching the park and found some bones. They are not believed to be human. Already today, police say they have discovered a pair of running shoes and a knife.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: But as police intensify their efforts in Washington, California Congressman Gary Condit faces new pressure to resign, from other lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in his home district.

COSSACK: Joining us today from Los Angeles is former federal prosecutor Tom Bienert. From Pittsburgh, we are joined by medical examiner Dr. Cyril Wecht.

VAN SUSTEREN: Here in our studio, Lou Hennessy, former commander of the Washington, D.C., homicide squad, and criminal defense attorney Bernie Grimm.

But first, we are joined by CNN national correspondent Eileen O'Connor, from Rock Creek Park.

Eileen, give us an update on the search of the park?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Basically, Greta, they're on a lunch break right now, but we're expecting the 28 police cadets to come back from lunch. And they've almost completed the search of this side of Piney Branch Parkway. This is an area that's about two miles north of Chandra Levy's apartment building. And they're basically going step by step, side by side, through really pretty heavy vegetation here, 11 weeks of summer growth since she disappeared.

And as you pointed out, they did, very early on -- about five minutes into the search -- find a pair of running shoes and what they are describing as a utility knife, a box-cutting knife, next to the shoes, and a box for running shoes. They do not know if they're related to the disappearance of Chandra Levy. The evidence team came in and took those items away, and they will now be tested.

There are a lot of homeless people in the area and a lot of joggers. Another reason that they are looking here, besides the fact that Chandra Levy had maps of this area brought up on her computer, is the police say she was a jogger.

VAN SUSTEREN: Eileen, it's almost 2,800 acres in that park, and the fact that they find running shoes, the fact that they only fond one pair of running shoes would surprise me more than that they found eight pairs of running shoes.

In terms of this search, are they marching in a grid pattern, to scour every little inch, or are they fanning out?

O'CONNOR: They are walking in a grid pattern, and even when they went down in the creek bed, they were looking all amongst the rocks. Obviously, with 28 -- and it's such a big area -- there is a little bit of spread; it's hard to go inch by inch, but they are going in a systematic way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why aren't they using dogs? Couldn't dogs do this a lot faster? At least they can run.

O'CONNOR: In fact, they used dogs to search some 240 abandoned buildings in the area around Chandra Levy's apartment, and the police did say to us that they thought they would be bringing dogs, possibly, here today. As you said, it might be more efficient. They so far have not turned up with dogs. I'm not sure if that's a resource issue or not. They did hold out the possibility that they would be bringing dogs at some point.

COSSACK: Lou, is this what the police should be doing, which is searching Rock Creek Park, here in Washington, D.C., or do you think there is any reason they are searching Rock Creek Park, as opposed to some other place? We know last week, they searched some buildings in northwest Washington. Is this just something that should be done?

HENNESSY: Well, I think what they're doing is try to cover all their steps. The police have already been subjected to a lot of criticism, the way they've handled this investigation, and they don't want to be second-guessed because they haven't gone the extra step.

There is some evidence that she was in this area or made inquiries about this area shortly before her disappearance, so it would be a logical place to begin a search if they were going to actually do a grid search like this.

COSSACK: Bernie, in terms of representation of Congressman Condit, or anyone else in this case, is this the kind of thing where more and more of the focus is getting to Congressman Condit, which the police keep denying? Is this the kind of thing you think just is?

BERNARD GRIMM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's a double-edged sword here. The kaleidoscope on Congressman Condit, every step they literally take in the woods that is following up on the belief that Condit is involved, is going to be evidence that some person who may get arrested who's not Condit is going to use as his defense. For example, that person will say he was the focus of your investigation, you believe she went to some mansion allegedly perhaps to meet him, you went through the woods, you searched his house, you took DNA from him; so at every step they take focusing on the investigation on him, closer and closer microscopically, is going to be helpful to someone else down the road, if someone else gets arrested.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bernie, the search of Rock Creek Park, to me, I think it's only because they found it on the computer. Frankly, I would have expected it sooner. Even I've had a homicide case where the victim was shot in Rock Creek Park. It's Not like it's such an unusual crime scene or place to hide a body?

GRIMM: No, it's Like New York and Central Park and people being mugged, assaulted or robbed in Central Park. That's what Rock Creek Park is to Washington, D.C.

COSSACK: The difference is that Central Park is not as wooded as Rock Creek Park. I think our viewers should understand that Rock Creek Park is a heavily wooded area, and much more easily you could hide something in Rock Creek Park?

GRIMM: Right. From years of running in Rock Creek Park, you can take two steps into those woods and, essentially, be invisible.

VAN SUSTEREN: We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF) An Alabama judge ruled Monday that Bobby Frank Cherry is not mentally fit to stand trial for the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Church.

Cherry had been indicted on charges of being one of the handful of Ku Klux Klansmen involved in the bombing that killed four girls.



VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF. We're going to go to Capitol Hill, where standing by: Congressman Bob Barr from the state of Georgia is joining us.

Congressman Barr, you have asked for the resignation of Gary Condit, the congressman from California. Why?

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Greta, it's always good to be with you, by the way. Thank you.

Every member of Congress takes an oath of office. And part of that oath of office is to swear to uphold the laws of the United States of America and the several states. For a member of Congress to impede and interfere with and otherwise obstruct a lawful investigation being conducted by the law enforcement authorities of any jurisdiction in this country -- including the FBI and the D.C. Police Department -- I think violates their oath of office.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask you something. I don't disagree on the question of obstruction. I'm wondering if you are jumping the gun, so to speak. I mean, we don't know if he obstructed. We are hearing through the newspaper -- and I underline -- you know, leaks are always suspect to me -- that he gave them more information each time he met with him.

I'm not so sure what was asked originally. I'm not so sure if he initially did tell them more information. Is it premature?

BARR: I don't think so, Greta. I'm certainly not saying that he has violated our criminal laws, in that each and every element of obstruction of justice could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. That's not my job. I don't know.

I do know, though, that based on his actual statements -- first of all, that he did not come clean with them about the extent and nature of his relationship with Ms. Levy at a crucial time in the investigation of a missing persons case -- and then later on, when forced to own up to it, he disclosed more information -- that is what I'm talking about is inconsistent with the oath of office that he took.

COSSACK: Congressman Barr, is your objection to him the fact that he didn't, in your opinion, come clean? Or is it your objection to him that he may have committed adultery? And if so, are there any standards, any uniform standards that can be applied across the board to congressmen within Congress?

BARR: My concern is the same as it was with President Clinton: not with the personal behavior -- and that certainly is a problem. That's not something that can be condoned, particularly, as the minority leader here on the Senate side mentioned on Sunday, where you have interns up here on the Hill and members of Congress or members of an administration take advantage of them. That certainly is inappropriate and ought to be cause for sanctions.

But my concern is the same as it was with President Clinton. And that is, once you move out of the arena of personal behavior to the arena of violating their oath of office or taking other public action, action as a public official, it becomes something that ought to concern us as members of a public body.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I just want to make the important distinction -- and it's an important constitutional distinction -- is that you can remove a president only for high crimes and misdemeanors, which is not for members of Congress, No. 1. And No. 2, the president is elected by everybody, as compared to a congressman, which is a district, which is hugely significant in a constitutional sense.

But with that, I am going to thank Congressman Bob Barr for joining us, and go to Pittsburgh, where we have standing by, Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Dr. Wecht, they have recovered a bone or two from Rock Creek Park. Now the big question: Is it animal or human? Is that a simple matter to determine?

DR. CYRIL WECHT, MEDICAL EXAMINER: I think it will be pretty simple.

The bones will be taken to the medical examiner's office. There are very competent forensic pathologists there. They probably will be able to make the determination. If indeed they have any question or simply want to have corroboration, then you have got some of the very best forensic and physical anthropologists in the world located right there at Smithsonian Institution.

If the bones are whole and long, then they probably can eyeball it quickly, Greta. If the bones are fragmented, then it may not be possible. They would do some blood-typing tests to differentiate human beings from animals. But with X ray studies and with the anthropological expertise that is available and forthcoming in your community, I do not believe there will be any problem.

Let me say that I do not believe that a body would have become skeletonized in 10, 11 weeks, even given the humid climate.


COSSACK: Dr. Wecht, that is the exactly the question I was going to ask you: Is there a way of aging the remains that are found? For example, is there a way of saying: This is so old, this is so old and -- besides what type it is. VAN SUSTEREN: Or does DNA quickly make the identification, so you don't have to get to the aging?

WECHT: Well, I would do first the eyeballing and the blood- typing and the DNA, if necessary, to show that it's not human.

If indeed it is human, then you can make some rough calculations and estimates about aging based upon the wear and tear and the overall coloration of the bone. You cannot do this precisely. And we are not doing this with carbon dating, of course. We are not talking about the Native Americans or anyone who else it may have been in the D.C. area centuries ago.

We're talking about something that might be a year old or five or ten or 20 or 30, most probably something recent. And there, direct visualization would indicate whether or not you are dealing with something that has been around for a long period of time. But this will not be able to be precise for a day or two.

But, again, I repeat, for this period of time -- 11, 12 weeks or so -- I do not believe, absent some usage of strong alkaline or acidic materials, that you are going to have skeletonization of human remains to the point that you will have clean bones. It's not going to happen.

COSSACK: All right, Tom Bienert joining us now from the West Coast -- Tom, as a former federal prosecutor, are -- and let me put you in charge of this investigation -- are you starting to put things together in terms of putting a case together or you still need more evidence?

THOMAS BIENERT, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think we still need more evidence.

And, obviously, from the prosecution's side as it relates to Congressman Condit, the key thing is: Was there an obstruction of justice? And so I think the thing is to look into whether there were attempts to get people to shape testimony, whether there were attempts to withhold information in hope that police would never find it.

You're starting to build things, though, that you would use if there ever were a case. For example, in any kind of trial, people often use as so-called consciousness of guilt evidence things that someone did that a prosecutor would argue an innocent, reasonable personal wouldn't do: not coming clean; trying to get people to shape testimony. So, clearly, things are being put in catalog: consciousness of guilt; direct action that might bear on whether someone is trying to hide something.

Of course, in this case, as to Congressman Condit, the issue is: What is he trying to hide? Is it simply unfair or...

VAN SUSTEREN: Or if he is trying to hide something -- because I'm still back to the fundamental point, which is that we're relying an awful lot on leaks and newspaper accounts. And, boy, I'll tell you, evidence in court is extraordinarily different. (CROSSTALK)

COSSACK: And you are right on that.

In court, I don't know how much of this would be admitted. Let's take a break.

BIENERT: Absolutely.

COSSACK: Police are combing sections of Rock Creek Park right now searching for clues about Chandra Levy. What's left for investigators to do in this missing persons case? Stay with us.


Q: According to sources close to the prosecution in the Gold Club trial, who will be the first pro athlete called to testify?

A: Pro basketball star Patrick Ewing.



COSSACK: Fifty police recruits are back in Rock Creek Park searching for any information that may aid in the search for Chandra Levy. The park, which covers more than 2,800 acres, is a place where Washingtonians go to walk their dogs, jog and picnic.

So how will investigators know which items found in the woods are worth examining? And where does the missing persons search go from here?

Lou, let me put you right back in charge of this search. How long do they go on? You know they are going to find a bunch of different material in Rock Creek Park.

HENNESSY: They are. And they have to assume, at least early on, that everything that they find could potentially be involved in this case, and collect it in a manner that would allow it to be presented in court at a later time in the event they do determine...

COSSACK: You're talking about chain of custody and that kind of thing?

HENNESSY: And the way it's -- yes, exactly -- how it's collected. They will photograph it once it's located. They will collect it in a manner and preserve it in a manner that it will be able to be tested if it's that type of evidence, or will be stored in a way that it will be admissible at a later time.

Everything that they find at this time, they're going to assume, until proved otherwise, that it's involved in the case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bernie, the "U.S. News & World Report" and other media outlets are reporting that the FBI is fanning out to check into other potential relationships that the congressman might have had with other women. Is this the FBI being the sex police and basically going way beyond what's necessary in a case like this?

GRIMM: They're going way beyond, but the facts of this case probably call for this major step. And it's unfortunate for the congressman -- presuming he's innocent -- because his reelection is essentially over. But the reason they're taking that huge step is they're at dead ends.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know -- but wait a second.

GRIMM: They're at dead ends on every aspect of this case.

VAN SUSTEREN: But -- take away this sort of -- the fact that it's a congressman and we have a missing woman that's an intern -- I mean, all those sort of great headline titles that we talk about -- he is, for all intents and purposes, an ex-boyfriend.

And, you know, I wonder if every sort of ex-boyfriend is getting this same sort of inspection, I mean, if the police and the FBI...

COSSACK: You mean as opposed to the one last who may have seen her alive?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, according to his report, he wasn't the last one who saw her alive. I mean, that's...

COSSACK: I think that's what they're checking into.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'm just saying, there is -- when you talk about limited resources, are we really -- is the FBI going out to California and investigating his background?

Let me ask Tom.

Tom, I think you did the same thing in the Starr investigation. You went looking for women and asked them questions about President Clinton. How far is too far?

BIENERT: Well, first of all, in the Clinton investigations, we were typically focusing only on women that the president was asked about under oath. So there was a direct correlation.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you asked him. But you guys asked him -- you guys asked him this stuff under oath. The Paula Jones people asked him under oath. And you created this universe of people to go out and question.

BIENERT: Well, I agree with you, Greta. At some point it gets too far. It seems to me that the only relevant reason to talk about other girlfriends is to see if there is some sort of history of violence or something that could then potentially tie into this particular investigation.

But short of that, there really isn't a significant reason to be going into his past sex life. COSSACK: Tom, what about the obstruction of justice charge that we've heard thrown around? And you have even talked about it: the notion of investigating him or perhaps even going forward and getting a grand jury about -- I think it's a stretch and -- and for many reasons, one of which is...


VAN SUSTEREN: That's the one thing that would worry me if I represented Condit, is the flight attendant saying that he urged her in a telephone call -- or at least she claims -- to sign an affidavit.

COSSACK: All right, Tom, I know you used to indict clients, because you indicted several of mine. But what about it? Would you be going forward in this case in terms of an indictment on an obstruction of justice on these facts, on the facts we have?

BIENERT: Well, I certainly would not be indicting at this point. But I agree with Greta: The thing that would intrigue a prosecutor most is the attempt -- at least the alleged attempt -- to get this flight attendant to sign a false declaration.

And it does seem -- based on press reports -- that at the time he did that, he was aware that he was being investigated.

VAN SUSTEREN: And making it worse, Bernie, I think, in this case, is that prosecutors don't want to look like they are easy on a congressman. Throw it up to the jury. I think that you have sort of the flip side of being a high-profile person.

GRIMM: Right, because you don't want the public to outcry: Well, there is a double standard here. I know people that got indicted of obstruction. Just because he is a congressman, he is not going to get indicted.

I don't think there's a case there. You have to -- the first element of obstruction in the District of Columbia and under the United States Code is to prove there's a pending criminal investigation. It was a missing persons case.

VAN SUSTEREN: Oh, boy, I will tell you, I wouldn't feel comfortable with that one.

GRIMM: Right, but


VAN SUSTEREN: If I were Abbe Lowell...

GRIMM: I'm an advocate...

VAN SUSTEREN: You are advocate, but would you feel comfortable if you were Condit's lawyer making that argument?

COSSACK: Maybe not comfortable, but I would certainly make that argument. (CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Tom, is that a good argument?


COSSACK: Tom, would I win that argument?

BIENERT: What's that?

COSSACK: There wasn't a pending criminal investigation on, so how can you obstruct justice?

BIENERT: Yes. Well, if there is no pending investigation, you can't have an obstruction. But it seems to me it is at least worth looking into whether he was aware or believed there was one at the time.

GRIMM: Right. But the problem for me is, it's certainly tampering, because you're making an attempt or effort to make evidence unavailable to the United States.

COSSACK: You know what worries me about the whole case more than anything is when I find you on the side of the prosecution being a little worried about it. I think it makes me a little nervous.

VAN SUSTEREN: No, it's not the side of the prosecution. It's just that -- you know -- is, you have a high-profile person. You have a potential serious crime out there -- with a missing woman. We know what it could mean. And we know that everyone is going to want to do something with it. And I think...

COSSACK: But he is presumed innocent, isn't he?

VAN SUSTEREN: No question about it.


VAN SUSTEREN: He is presumed innocent. And he may be innocent. OK? That's all the...

COSSACK: See, I even got the finger pointed at me.


VAN SUSTEREN: That's all the time we have for today.

He gets the finger pointed.

Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Tonight on "THE POINT": D.C. Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer joins us to give us the latest. That's at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

COSSACK: And today on "TALKBACK LIVE": With the extensive media coverage of the Levy case, can Congressman Gary Condit fulfill his job duties? Send your e-mail to Bobbie Battista and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And Greta and I will be back tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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