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Missing in America: Search Continues for Missing Oklahoma Teen

Aired July 23, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ROGER COSSACK, HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Missing in America. Eighteen-year-old Jeffrey Ben has been missing since January 29. The Oklahoma teen's car was last seen wrecked on the side of a highway after a late-night visit at an uncle's house. Today, his mother speaks out on BURDEN OF PROOF.

Plus, police resume their search for Chandra Levy as more questions arise regarding Gary Condit's behavior.


SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: I want my daughter alone, and I want her alive, and I want the truth to come out.



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



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



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Withheld information from the police...



LOWELL: Try to see if there's somebody else out there who may have some information...



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A family's 24-year-old daughter is missing and has not been heard from for 2 1/2 months.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Washington police are combing two parks in the D.C. area, looking for missing intern Chandra Levy. "The Washington Post" says police want to interview Congressman Gary Condit for a fourth time, emphasizing once again that the congressman is not a suspect.

However, "The Washington Post" also says investigators want at least one FBI profiler in on any interview. Authorities are interested in what Condit has to say about a watch box he allegedly threw away in a Virginia neighborhood hours before his apartment was searched.

To discuss all of this, joining us today here in Washington, Erik Hodge; also, Trevor Hewick, a former D.C. detective, and David Schertler, criminal defense attorney and former chief of the homicide division in the United State's Attorney's Office here in D.C.

But first, let's call in CNN national correspondent Bob Franken for the latest updates -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only "The Washington Post," but our sources are saying the same thing, that there is a stronger interest now in interviewing Condit for fourth time, in particular because of the disposal of that watch case. We are all aware of that, that police sources told us that four hours before his apartment was searched, Condit left and disposed of a watch case that's been traced to a woman who lives in the San Francisco area who apparently had a relationship with Condit, according to these sources, and police, of course, want to know if he did this for any reason that might have impeded their investigation into the Chandra Levy matter.

At this particular point, they continue to say Congressman Gary Condit is not a suspect, and they have not, by the way, set up specific details of their interview. We normally don't find out about those things until they are through, and then we try to find out exactly what occurred. During the third one, that was the one where, according to sources, Condit acknowledged finally to investigators that he did have a romantic relationship with Chandra Levy.

As for the participation of the FBI profiler, the entire point here has been all along right to try and get some idea of Chandra Levy's state of mind at about the time she disappeared, and that would be part of an optimistic scenario...

COSSACK: Let's go to Modesto, California. Let's get to them.

QUESTION: Do you have any plans to go back east anytime in the future?


ROBERT LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S FATHER: Not as far as we know right now.

S. LEVY: I cannot comment on that.

QUESTION: The last thing I have to ask you about, you may not be aware of this. Something very strange happened outside here about 10 minutes ago.

S. LEVY: No.

QUESTION: Young woman in a car drove down the road this direction very quickly, maybe 60 or 70 miles per hour, swerving. She did a u-turn right over here in front of the police officer, came back and drove around your driveway, did a circle zipping back down the road, and she was chased. I don't know what is coming up.

S. LEVY: What color car.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No back bumper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a track on your yard.

S. LEVY: Where?


R. LEVY: We didn't know about that.

S. LEVY: We didn't know. Oh, my God. Well, that's scary, but this is scary anyhow. Everything is scary for us. You know anything about this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She had dark, curly hair, in her 20s, one person in the car.

S. LEVY: One person in the car?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Green Honda Civic. He'll talk to you.

S. LEVY: Yes, come on in. No, we had no idea, we've been on the phone.

COSSACK: OK, we're back after seeing an interview with the Levy parents. Apparently, an unknown person drove down their street, perhaps even driving across their lawn. What this means, we have yet to find out. It's clear the Levys didn't know anything about it, either.

Bob, I hated to interrupt you at that time, but was ordered to. Let me give you a chance to finish up what you were saying.

FRANKEN: Well, let me just point out a couple of things. Number one, the whole idea trying find out Chandra Levy's state of mind would be in the hope somehow she has decided for whatever reason to go into hiding, and that she is still alive. Of course, the pessimistic scenario is the one that has led police to search the parks that you referred to.

Let me just comment, by the way, on what occurred outside the Levy's home right now. You maybe heard somebody in the background talking about if fact that the driver almost hit one of the news people who is standing out there. There are a lot of people out there who are very, very upset at all the news media coverage. There have been a couple of instances where camera people have felt like cars have swerved, trying to hit them.

So, one of the things we'll have to pay attention to is if that was another case of that.

COSSACK: All right, Bob, just a follow-up question to you. You know, with the obvious information that people are talking about is this watch case business. Has there been any response from the Condit camp regarding his alleged activities of throwing this away or why he did it or admissions?

FRANKEN: Interesting response -- actually, interesting non- response is probably a better way to put it. I spoke to one of the top members of the Condit team last Friday, and I asked about that. He said that they made a practice of not commenting on things that do not have to do with the Chandra Levy case. Of course, that would be the spin you would expect on that side, that clearly this was something that was separate from that.

But the police want to explore if, in fact, there was some sort of connection; whether, in fact, the person who sent him the gift, for instance, had any knowledge of the Chandra Levy matter. But that was the non-responses, I said, from the Condit camp.

COSSACK: All right, Trevor, give us the police response to this kind of activity. Obviously, the congressman knew that his place was going to be searched, his apartment was going to be searched and allegedly, and I say allegedly because we don't know for sure, the allegations are that he took some things, one of which is a watch case, and got it out of that apartment before the police showed up. All right, officer, what do you do now?

TREVOR HEWICK, FRM. D.C. POLICE DETECTIVE: What do I do? I wouldn't have told him I was coming. I don't understand why they give the man time to clean up his apartment, go do it. Just go do it. The investigation has been tainted from day one, and the police haven't gotten cooperation not just from the aunt, I can't understand why didn't give up information on Congressman Condit, but the family. They have held back information, and so the police -- their hands are tied.

Their hands were tied from day one, and then you had senior management telling the officers involved in the case to treat the congressman with kid gloves. So, I don't know what's going on here with this investigation, but I know if they would have let the detectives do their work, they would have gotten down to the bottom of this very quickly.

COSSACK: You brought up an interesting point. We're going to have to take a break. When we come back, I want to talk to you a little bit about this notion of senior management and how congressmen get treated as opposed to, perhaps, the rest of us might get treated here in Washington, D.C. and if there is a difference and if there is a policy understanding, of course, that it's Congress that pays the bills for the Washington, D.C. police department.

Let's take a break. When we come back, we're going to talk about all of that. Stay with us.


Nine people were arrested Saturday and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct for protesting outside the house where MTV's "The Real World" is being taped in Chicago. The protesters maintain that the taping is forcing out the artists who made the Wicker Park area popular.



COSSACK: For a non-suspect, Congressman Gary Condit is getting a great deal of attention from investigators. Now, "The Washington Post" says the police are negotiating with Condit's lawyers for yet another interview. All right, Trevor, I want to talk to you a little bit about senior management. Is that the same as higher-ups in the police department?

HEWICK: That's correct, Roger.

COSSACK: Now, you implied during our last segment that perhaps senior management directed or treated the congressman a little differently than perhaps other people would be treated. What do you mean by that?

HEWICK: There's no doubt that when a high-profile case comes into the media's attention, being a politician or just -- like a triple homicide at Starbucks, senior management is going to reins of the investigation. They are going to get involved, for whatever their own reasons are, and they are going to inhibit criminal investigations that being conducted by the detectives involved in the case.

COSSACK: How would they inhibit the investigation?

HEWICK: Well, they would start dictating who to investigate, what to investigate, what times to do it, the release of any information, if they were going to release information, and I tell you, that ties the detective's hands. It just ties the detectives hands.

COSSACK: Do you feel that this case was investigated as it should have been right from the beginning?

HEWICK: Oh, no. I can tell you senior management got involved. As soon as they got involved, again I use the word tainted. They tainted the investigation.

COSSACK: By not allowing the detectives to do what they should have done.

HEWICK: Right. I know the investigators involved in the case, and I'll tell you they are good investigators, good detectives, have a lot of experience, and they know to ask tough questions, and these tough questions were not asked of Congressman Condit or the family.

COSSACK: David Schertler, you're former head of the Homicide Division, U.S. Attorney's office, now in private practice. You heard what Trevor has to say. You have a lot of experience in this matter. Does the senior management in these kind of situations hinder a complete investigation?

DAVID SCHERTLER, FRM. U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, senior management can, depending on how intrusive they are, as Trevor says, with what the investigators are doing on a day-to-day basis. I don't know what senior management's role is in this case. But two things that I would say, first of all, senior management is going to want to know what's going on in the case, and we've seen Chief Ramsey and Deputy Chief Gainer out there giving press statements. They obviously keep informed about what's going on, and that makes sense. I don't have a problem with that.

The second thing I just believe it's hard to judge whether the police have done a good or bad job because we don't really know much of that they have done or much of what they haven't done, and the fact of the matter is I'm not sure that if we found out about the affair the first time that Gary Condit was interviewed by the police that we'd be in a different spot right now in terms of the investigation.

COSSACK: Is that really the question? Is the question that we'd be in a different spot or is the question that we should know?


COSSACK: Because perhaps we wouldn't be in a different spot.

SCHERTLER: There's no reason why an investigation should not proceed as aggressively as possible from day one. We don't know what transpired between the detectives and Gary Condit in those first interviews. They may have been aggressive with him. He may just not have been answering the questions honestly.

But the problem in this case is you've got a lack of solid leads or evidence to go on, and I'm not sure Condit could have given you that way back when.

COSSACK: And clearly, you may be right. But let's say what we do know. This is perhaps going to be his fourth interview, if they do interview him again, there's an indication. That he took his own lie detector test, which clearly didn't seem to make the police happy, that it was months before a search warrant was issued on his apartment.

HEWICK: There was no search warrant on his apartment.

COSSACK: Excuse me, before he volunteered to have his apartment searching, and the police apparently announced when they were going to do it. Is that the kind of investigation that most people get in Washington, D.C.?

SCHERTLER: You know, it depends on the case, and it depends on what kind of evidence the police are dealing with. The fact -- one of the things that you have to keep in mind is that Condit didn't have to come in at all. All of this has been done voluntarily: all three interviews, the search of his apartment, the DNA sample and whatever else he has provided to police. It's all been voluntary.

The police have no power to require him to do any of that, and maybe one of their approaches was let's be somewhat delicate because it's more important for us to interview this guy and get information.

COSSACK: Trevor, David says since the police really didn't have any power to perhaps even get a search warrant in this case, Condit volunteers to have his place searched; I mean, what else could police have done?

HEWICK: I mean, it's an investigative lead to find out about Chandra Levy's relationships while in D.C., and one of those leads was Condit. If you can't investigate that properly, which the police didn't have an opportunity to do, you're not going to go anyplace with the case.

COSSACK: But David points out, and he's right, that, you know, look, Condit could have just said, hey, fellows, nice talking to you, but I'm not going to, and I'm not going to say a word and if you have a problem with that, go talk to my lawyer. I mean, what else could the police have done in that situation?

HEWICK: Well, again, he still didn't do that because it's months after the fact and by that time, who cares what he's got in his house or what happens on the lie detector. SCHERTLER: It's somewhat reminiscent of Jon Benet Ramsey. If you remember, when the police came down hard on the mother and father, the Ramseys, and said now you are suspects and started treating them as such, the Ramseys immediately clammed up, got lawyers and would not give interviews...

COSSACK: And that was early on, the family had lawyers.

SCHERTLER: And in a situation like -- Condit is in exactly the same situation. If you are the police and you come down hard on him and you say, look, you had a relationship with her, you are a suspect. He may just get a lawyer and you might not hear from him again. It may be more important to get that information in those second and third interviews that they've been able to get.

COSSACK: Trevor.

HEWICK: No, I don't agree. You come down hard, let him get his attorney. The family here wants closure for this case. They want to know where Chandra is. Granted, they didn't help out 100 percent. The family wants closure. Condit can go get his attorney, at least then, the police detectives investigating the case would have known what direction to go to, and they would taken it more seriously. Too many suspicious activities going on in that apartment, just too many.

COSSACK: All right, let me turn to you a second, a change of topic a little. Obstruction of justice, we have an allegation that before the search of his apartment, Congressman Condit picks up some items, one of which has been identified as a gift from perhaps someone --- some other woman he was involved with -- we didn't know -- takes it out to a Virginia dump and dumps it. Is that obstruction of justice?

SCHERTLER: It could. You know, I keep thinking of that movie "Dumb and Dumber." It's dumb to tell Anne Marie Smith not to tell the truth about the relationship and then when everybody learns about that and is concerned about his obstructive behavior, then he goes and gets rid of a watch box. That's dumber.

The best light for Gary Condit, it's nothing because it doesn't relate to Chandra Levy's disappearance, but what it does do is ratchets up the suspicion on the part of the police and the prosecutors as to whether or not this man is engaging in a pattern of obstruction of justice, not just one thing now, a series of things, and they're starting to ask themselves why. Knowing that everybody was looking at him and concerned about obstruction, why on Earth would he take the risk of disposing of something that might be incriminating.

COSSACK: OK, Trevor, give me that policeman's smile. Why on Earth would he take the risk?

HEWICK: I'm not concerned about obstruction of justice at this point. One year, three years, five years down the road the truth is going to come up and if he's guilty of something, whether it is kidnapping or murder, they will deal with him. COSSACK: This is a massive search for Chandra Levy. This has now become nationwide story, the FBI is involved in this, it appears like the only situation that the D.C. police, we read about on a daily basis. Is because of the manpower that is put to this, are they going to find, do you think, Chandra Levy?

HEWICK: No, they are not going to find -- it doesn't matter whether you have 16 or 30 detectives, you're not going to find her. Two detectives that are assigned to the case, they can do a job if they are allowed to do the job, to find this woman.

SCHERTLER: The other thing that you have to keep in mind is the search techniques. Washington is a very small geographic area and if there is a kidnapping, an abduction here and she was taken somewhere, she could have just as likely been taken to Maryland or Virginia. I think the only way we're going to solve this case is if somebody who knows what happened to her or was involved in it has to come forward out of a guilty conscience and tell the police what occurred, and that may be the only way we solve this.

We are still five, six years after Jon Benet, and we still don't know what happened there.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we come back, we're going to talk about some other -- we're going to talk to another mother who is unfortunately missing a son; the mother of Jeffrey Ben, who has been missing since January. Stay tuned.


COSSACK: Welcome back to BURDEN OF PROOF. The last time anyone ever saw 18-year-old Jeffrey Ben was January 29. The Clayton, Oklahoma boy's truck was found wrecked on the side of the road, but there's never been a trace of Jeffrey. Joining us from Dallas is Jeffrey's mother, Linda Miller and in Oklahoma City, Kym Koch, public information director for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations.

Let's go right to you, Linda. Tell us about Jeffrey, tell us what happened and the last time you saw him and tell us all about him.

LINDA MILLER, JEFFREY BEN'S MOTHER: OK, Jeffrey had been working in Detroit, Michigan on fiber-optic cable lines, and he had just come home the 27th from that job to his home in Clayton, and the last time I saw him was on Christmas vacation. He went to his father's house on the 27th, and was going to come to my house after that weekend.

Well, Super Bowl Sunday, he was visiting friends and relatives and the next night I got a phone call and they had found Jeffrey's truck wrecked could not find Jeffrey, and they were wondering if he was at my home, and he wasn't. So, we went and proceeded with a six- day search of the area where his truck was found, and we have not found anything of Jeffrey. It's as though he vanished off the face of the earth.

COSSACK: Linda, tell us about what kind of boy was Jeffrey? Did he have a lot of friends? Was he outgoing? Tell us about him. MILLER: Everyone knew Jeffrey. He was very outgoing. He graduated in the year 2000 as the homecoming king. He was an athlete, he played every sport. He was just a very loving boy that loved family and friends so much.

COSSACK: Now, Linda, there was, he has a cousin, a nephew of yours, who was given a lie detector test by the police department and apparently didn't pass. What has been made of that?

MILLER: I don't know. It confuses us and it bothers me. I don't know what to make of it.

COSSACK: Have you had any leads at all on Jeffrey? Have you put up -- I know there's reward, and have you put out posters? Tell us what you've done.

MILLER: Oh, yes. Well, for six days after he came up missing, there was an extensive search of the area by foot, by plane, four- wheelers, horses, dogs. For six days we did that, and then we proceeded to put up posters everywhere in surrounding towns and communities. Local television stations have aired the story. We have searched his family and friends just continually.

COSSACK: All right, let me ask Kym Koch join us now. Kym, tell us about the search that's been conducted by Oklahoma authorities for Jeffrey.

KYM KOCH, OKLAHOMA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: We searched with the OSBI plane and our forward-looking infrared system, which is called the FLIR system, the Tuesday after Jeffrey was reported missing on Monday, and we did probably about a 20-mile radius from where his truck was found. I know that lake patrol also dragged the river, I believe, that was about 200 yards away from where Jeffrey's truck was found as well, and we didn't come up with anything.

COSSACK: Now, the forward looking -- the FLIR you talked about, infrared, that is method in which you look for different kinds of heat imaging. Is that how that works?

KOCH: Right, it's basically a heat image. We have an agent that will fly the plane fairly low and another agent that will use what's basically a video camera to shoot the ground, and then has a monitor and anything on the ground that's alive will have some sort of heat coming off of it. It looks a lot like some of the things you probably seen in movies, but it does radiate heat and they can determine what it is if they fly a little bit closer.

COSSACK: Now, you've conducted, I'm sure, many, many interviews. Tell us about the interviews that you have conducted and if you come up with any leads, checked his bank account, the traditional kinds of things that I'm sure you've been doing.

KOCH: Right, we have done -- our agency has conducted about 50 interviews, and I know the sheriff's office in Pushmataha has done at least that many, if not more. Probably about 150 interviews total of family, friends, acquaintances, anybody who might have seen him or had any kind of dealings with him before he disappeared.

We also checked his bank account and his credit cards. There's been no activity on the bank account or credit cards. He's not contacted any family members. So initially I think the idea was he walked away or was somewhere in the woods and something might have happened to him. When the search did not prove fruitful, we didn't find him, then we started suspecting there was foul play involved either an accident and somebody hid the bed or somebody did something to him.

COSSACK: Now, in your suspicion that there is foul play, we know that his cousin apparently did not pass a lie detector test. Is there anything that you can comment about that?

KOCH: Not really. That's part of the investigation, and I don't know if that can be used. I mean, on a lot of the cases that we look into, certainly we have good leads, leads that obviously don't go anywhere, and the agent, I think in his mind, has a good idea about what might have happened, but absolutely no way to prove it at this point or we would have filed charges.

COSSACK: Linda. have you been in touched with any friends of Jeffrey's, any of his friends, people that you knew to try and paint a picture of what happened that Super Bowl Sunday?


COSSACK: And what you have found out?

MILLER: Nothing. Nothing.

COSSACK: Well, tell us about the friends you have spoken to. What was Jeffrey doing? Was he watching the game with his friends?

MILLER: Yes, mostly visiting, and he had been gone for a while and he was mostly just visiting. I haven't really gotten much information out of any of them.

COSSACK: And have you gone about any -- I'm sorry gone about any of his other friends you may have known? Did he have a girlfriend or something like that.

MILLER: I talked to everyone almost he had association with no clues.

COSSACK: And no one has any idea where he has been or where he might be?


COSSACK: All right. Kym, a couple other questions for you. What do you hold in the future for your investigation in this case?

KOCH: Well, again, the agent does have some idea of what might have happened, what might have occurred but it's just a matter of working that angle and then following up on different leads that come to us from different people willing to give up information.

It also helps that Jeffrey's mother is involved as much as she is with the media down there because the more you get it out there, the more people will remember maybe something that they didn't tell an agent or an investigator initially that might have some bearing on the case now. The other thing you have to deal, and they have been dealing with, are rumors, they are flying, and typically they do in a smaller community like that. And when you don't have good solid leads you really have to go check out just about every rumor you hear just to make sure that there's not some grin of truth to it.

COSSACK: All right, I'm afraid that's all the time we have today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



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