Return to Transcripts main page


Murder in the Capital: The Death of Chandra Levy

Aired October 23, 2010 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. A "CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATION," "Murder in the Capital: The Death of Chandra Levy," begins in just 60 seconds. But first, a look at some of our top stories.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was on the campaign trail today for Republican candidates in Florida. With the midterm elections only ten days away, she urged 2,000 GOP activists in Orlando to keep working until the last minute to guarantee Republican victories. Palin said Americans are afraid President Obama's economic policies are driving us off a cliff.

President Obama led the Democratic Get out to Vote effort. Fresh off a campaign stop for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. The president was at the University of Minnesota to stomp for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. It was the president's 5th state in the last four days.

Two American-born radicals link to terrorists appeared in new videos today. Site intelligence group says this video of al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn was posted on various Jihadist Web sites. In it, Gadahn urge Muslims to carry out individual Jihad in the United States and Europe. Also today, Anwar al-Awlaki appeared in this video. The extremist cleric who has been linked to al-Qaeda terrorist in Yemen talks about Islam being in, quote, "severe need for guidance in these dark situations."

And now to our "CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATION." It's been more than nine years since Washington, D.C. intern Chandra Levy disappeared. Now all these years later, a suspect charged in her murder is finally going on trial. It was a case that shattered the career of Congressman Gary Condit. Amber Lyon reports on how the case began.


AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A murder mystery that rocked the nation's capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody who has information surrounding Chandra's disappearance, please contact us.

LYON: And captured the country's attention.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The missing Washington intern --

LYON: An attractive, young intern, missing without a trace.



LYON: An investigation that embroiled a powerful congressman in scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know anything about where Chandra Levy is?

LYON: A story of sex and secrets filled with strange twists and turns.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The ultimate story of Washington palace intrigue. Is there a murderer in the midst of the United States Congress?



UNIDENTIFIED POLICE: We have spoken with Congressman Condit's attorney.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shame, shame, shame, shame.

LYON (voice-over): In the summer of 2001, a scandal erupted on Capitol Hill that ignited a media firestorm. A 24-year-old graduate student Chandra Levy had simply vanished. Allegations of an affair with a married congressman soon surfaced.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Condit, why not --

LYON: Congressman Gary Condit's denials and revelations about his relationship with Chandra Levy would complicate and consume this investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Condit, why not --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to get anybody and everybody involved in finding her and bringing her home safely to her family.


LYON: And during a slow news summer, it was the story that riveted the nation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, we know nothing. We have no leads.

LYON: Now, nine years later, the mystery of what happened to Chandra Levy still remains.

Chandra Levy came to Washington, D.C. from Modesto, California, with a dream to work in law enforcement. It was the fall of 2000 and she had just landed an internship at the federal bureau of prisons.

MATT SZABO, FORMER CLASSMATE: She really enjoyed it. And every time that I saw her or talked to her, she kept convincing me, you know, you should really come out, I love D.C. I love Washington.

LYON: The halls of power were a long way from Levy's quiet life in Modesto, California. Her family was close. They even took trips around the world together.

JOANNE TITTLE, NEIGHBOR: I would describe Chandra as very strong-directed, aware, very aware.

LYON: Chandra worked with the Modesto police department later enrolling as a graduate student at the University of Southern California. She headed to Washington, D.C. for one last internship before graduation.

JOHNS: I thought more about that --

LYON: CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns covered this story from the beginning.

JOHNS: She was a young, vibrant, ambitious woman. She had a bright future ahead of her.

LYON: But after six months, Chandra's internship at the Bureau of Prisons abruptly ended. She had finished her coursework and was no longer considered a student. Chandra would have to return home. But not before revealing a secret. Friends say Chandra had fallen in love with an older married congressman.

(on camera): On April 30th, 2001, Chandra Levy was seen by witnesses entering her neighborhood gym, The Washington Sports Club. She canceled her gym membership and then left around 7:30 that night.


SUSAN LEVY, CHANDRA LEVY'S MOTHER: Her plan was to come home and possibly find a job and to possibly go take the LSAT and look for a job and wanted to be an FBI agent.


LYON (on camera): So on the morning of May 1st, Chandra was hanging out in her apartment right there, surfing the Internet. She e-mailed her mom, even checked out a map of a local park called Rock Creek. At 12:30 that afternoon, Chandra logged off the Internet, left this building and she never came home.

(voice-over): Chandra Levy had vanished.


S. LEVY: She was looking forward to coming home and sharing graduation with us. She was in good spirits. My husband kind of felt it before I did. It was like last Saturday, he felt uneasy. And I started really feeling uneasy on Sunday.


LYON: Her parents contacted the D.C. police.

(on camera): On May 10th, investigators came out here and searched through Chandra's apartment in the Dupont circle neighborhood and what they found was unusual.

(voice-over): Everything was there -- her computer, her wallet, suitcases, everything but Chandra.

ROD WHEELER, FMR. D.C. HOMICIDE DETECTIVE: There wasn't anything unusual about her actions or her movements up until the time in which she disappeared other than the fact that she had very close relationships with some high-level people on Capitol Hill. And as we all know now, one of those high-level people was Gary Condit.

LYON: Rumors of a secret affair would put one man at the center of the investigation.




GARY CONDIT, FORMER CONGRESSMAN OF CALIFORNIA: I'm going to bring the valley values to Washington, D.C.

LYON (voice-over): Gary Condit, Congressman Gary Condit was a political renegade, a blue dog Democrat, he often crossed party lines.

JOHNS: He wasn't afraid to buck his party. He wasn't afraid to go down to the White House and have lunch with George Bush.

LYON (on camera): Gary Condit lived in this neighborhood. It's known as Adams Morgan. And this place is ethnic, it's bohemian. You can see from all these bars, it's got quite the night life. It's not exactly the place you'd expect the button-down son of a Baptist preacher to live.

(voice-over): Then again, he rode a Harley and he was Mr. June in a spoof calendar called "Hunks of the House."

SCOTT HIGHAM, CO-AUTHOR, "FINDING CHANDRA": I think that he didn't know quite what to do.

LYON: "Washington Post" investigative reporter Scott Higham who co-authored the book "Finding Chandra" spoke recently to my colleague Joe Johns. He says Chandra's parents immediately thought there was a connection between their daughter and Gary Condit, their own congressman.

HIGHAM: They found his phone number in her cell phone bills. LYON: So after reporting Chandra missing to the D.C. police, the parents called Condit. He told them he knew Chandra, that she was a friend of one of his former interns.

HIGHAM: He thought very early on that she would turn up, that she would come back to Washington or she'd show up at home and this whole thing would blow over. But he was wrong.


S. LEVY: I don't feel he's been very truthful to me. And I think someone out there knows the truth.


LYON: Chandra's mother did most of the talking. It was too much for Chandra's father.




LYON: Concern that the D.C. police weren't doing enough, they flew to the capital. Soon the media were reporting that the D.C. police had talked to Condit.

HIGHAM: A lot of people had sources within the police department and that information started coming out.

LYON: Information that Condit acknowledged to the cops. Chandra had been to his apartment a few times. Condit's staff denied any romantic link between the 53-year-old congressman and his 24-year-old constituent.

JOHNS: You're like, OK, if she spent the night, but they were just friends, was she sleeping on the couch? Why? You know, it started to not make a whole lot of sense.

LYON: For the news media, summer in Washington is often slow. But not this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gary Condit, resign!

JOHNS: The ultimate story of Washington palace intrigue, is there a murderer in the midst of the United States Congress?

CHIEF CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. POLICE: We don't talk specifically about any information we get from people who we're interviewing regarding this. I can say this -- we don't have anything that connects the congressman with her disappearance.

LYON: Early in July 2001, United Airlines flight attendant Anne Marie Smith confirmed a tabloid report that she'd had an 11-month affair with Condit. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNE MARIE SMITH, CLAIMS AFFAIR WITH CONDIT: We'd meet in Washington. I would fly out there, or I would meet him in California.


LYON: Condit has neither admitted nor denied the affair. Then Chandra's aunt releases a statement saying that Chandra had confided in her, that Chandra was having an affair with Condit.


LINDA ZAMSKY, CHANDRA'S AUNT: And then hopefully have a relationship that they could come out and be together in public, get married, have a family. That's what he told her.


JOHNS: He just never addressed it. And people were allowed to sort of speculate whatever they wanted to. And they did. And then it just got completely out of control.

LYON: After yet another interview with investigators, a statement from Condit's attorney about the missing intern --


ABBE LOWELL, CONDIT'S ATTORNEY: The congressman will provide whatever additional information or material he can to the police. This includes access to his apartment, telephone or cell phone records.


LYON (on camera): With all of this pressure mounting, Condit eventually agreed to give police a sample of his DNA. And this is where it happened, a grocery store parking lot at night away from the press, a quick swab of the congressman's mouth. But still, no public comment.

HIGHAM: He wasn't saying anything. He had taken this stance that my private life is my private life. I'm cooperating with the police department. I don't owe an explanation to the public or to the press.

LYON (voice-over): By mid-August, "The Modesto Bee," the largest paper in Condit's district declared resignation is the proper course.

CONDIT: I answered every question --

LYON: Fighting for his career, the congressman finally broke his silence in late August. An interview with ABC's Connie Chung.


CONNIE CHUNG, ABC ANCHOR: Do you have any idea if there was anyone who wanted to harm her?


CHUNG: Did you cause anyone to harm her?


CHUNG: Did you kill Chandra Levy?

CONDIT: I did not.


LYON: But even here, he sidestepped questions about their relationship.

CONDIT: I think it's best that I not get into those details.

LYON: To this date, Condit has never admitted publicly to an affair.


LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Did you have a relationship with Chandra Levy?

CONDIT: You know, I'm not going to talk about Chandra Levy, and I'm not going to say anything or do anything to hurt or --

KING: Why not say "no"?

CONDIT: I'm just not going to get into that.


LYON: By the end of that summer of 2001, Chandra Levy was still missing. And then, September 11th, the national obsession with a beautiful young woman was over -- or was it?

JOHNS: The call was, found a body in Rock Creek Park and might be a woman.



LYON (voice-over): After a summer of relentless media attention --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know anything about where Chandra Levy is?

LYON: Gary Condit, the once powerful politician, is left with a shattered reputation.

(on camera): When did Gary Condit stop being a suspect in this case?

JOHNS: Technically, he was never a suspect in this case to start with. The police said again and again, he wasn't a suspect.

LYON (voice-over): Former D.C. detective Rob Wheeler worked with investigators hired by the Levy Family.

ROD WHEELER, FORMER D.C. HOMICIDE DETECTIVE: Investigators kind of started shifting their efforts away from Gary Condit at the point in which they started receiving a lot more information about other individuals.

LYON: And even though Condit was never charged with any crime, come March 4th, 2002, the once unbeatable congressman lost the democratic primary.

CONDIT: It's been a great opportunity to be in public service and represent them in Washington, D.C. and I'll never forget it.

LYON: Less than three months after Condit lost the election, a break in the case that had gone cold.

(on camera): On May 22nd, 2002, Chandra Levy's body was finally found 386 days after she went missing. And it was found down in an area just like this off the main trail, a steep ravine. And it was found just outside where police had spent almost a year searching for her.

(voice-over): A furniture maker was out in the woods with his dog when he spotted something that looked like a bone. It was the same park Chandra looked up on the Internet the day she disappeared.

(on camera): So we're in Rock Creek Park and we're on one of the jogging trails. And this place is really popular among people who live here, who hike, go running. It's huge, but it's also very isolated.

Listen to this -- all you can hear is the sound of the leaves rustling. This would be a place that it would be very easy for someone to disappear from. In fact, my photographer's only about 200 yards from us and watch this, when I yell "help" -- help, help! He can barely hear us.

JOHNS: If they'd been lucky enough to have found her body back a week or two or ten days after she was killed, there would have been all kinds of evidence. There might have been hair, there might have been fiber as some have pointed out.

LYON (voice-over): But the police were not so lucky. Joe Johns interviewed "Washington Post" reporter Sari Horwitz, who co-authored the book "Finding Chandra."

SARI HORWITZ, CO-AUTHOR, "FINDING CHANDRA": They went into Chandra Levy's apartment right away after her father called and they fooled around with her computer trying to see where she had gone. And they corrupted the hard drive on the computer which meant the computer had to be sent out and for a month was being analyzed by the secret service. So for a month, they didn't know that she had just looked up Rock Creek Park before she went and disappeared.

LYON: Years, in fact, before another suspect would emerge. A suspect already in police custody, Ingmar Guandique, an immigrant from El Salvador.

(on camera): And this is where the man who would eventually be charged with Chandra's murder lived. You can see here on our GPS this flag is where his apartment was. And right over here, this green area, that's Rock Creek Park. And that's only about three blocks away from where the defendant lives. Guandique was already in jail for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park not far from where Levy's body was found. In February 2002, the FBI gave Guandique a polygraph, and they asked him questions about Chandra Levy.

WHEELER: But the polygraph results, according to the examiner, came back inconclusive. Again, in an investigation, that's not totally unusual.

LYON (voice-over): So Guandique was, at least, temporarily ruled out as a suspect for Chandra's murder. But he did get sentenced to ten years in prison for the other two assaults. It would take police another seven years, the spring of 2009, before they would charge Guandique with the murder of Chandra Levy.

JOHNS: I just suspect that the reason it took a long time is because they were building their case. They wanted to have a solid case. See, Guandique wasn't going anywhere. And in an investigation, if you know your suspect is already -- or your potential suspect is already locked up, there's no rush.

LYON: The indictment claims Guandique bragged about murdering Chandra Levy to a fellow inmate.

HORWITZ: And when the police finally went into his cell in the summer of 2008, he had a picture of Chandra Levy from a magazine and he had a tattoo on his chest of a woman who resembled Chandra Levy. So that's the kind of evidence they're going to be presenting in court. It's a circumstantial case.

JOHNS: I mean, what do you have? I mean, they don't have DNA. They don't have a confession. I mean, they have some guy who's locked up saying he confessed. But, I mean, how good is that when everybody who's in prison wants early release?

LYON: Nearly nine years after Chandra Levy's body was discovered, the trial is finally set to begin. Guandique has pleaded not guilty. As for Gary Condit, after leaving the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2003, he moved to Arizona to be closer to family. His wife, she's continued to stand by his side. Condit opened a couple of Baskin Robbins franchises with his son Chad but they're now closed. The Condit Family also successfully sued for libel and slander over media coverage of the scandal. Now he's writing a book. The Levys held a memorial service for Chandra on May 28th, 2002 in Modesto, California. But there is still no closure. WHEELER: There's a guy on trial who could still possibly beat the case. If he beats this charge, then where does this case go? It almost goes back to the beginning. The police has to start looking at everybody all over again.

LYON: Now the world will watch and wait for a jury to decide whether this case is finally over.


LEMON: An opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin Monday. Gary Condit could be called to the witness stand.

A look at our top stories -- next.


LEMON: I'm Don Lemon. Here's a look at your headlines. A fast- moving cholera outbreak has killed at least 208 people in Haiti and more than 2000 people in the earthquake ravaged nation are sick. All the reported cases so far are north of the capital.

WikiLeaks released 400,000 pages of military documents has brought up concerns that Iraqi security forces may have tortured and killed people. Details in the pages made public yesterday show the United States may have also transferred thousands of detainees to Iraqi custody knowing the risk of torture. Human rights watch is now asking for an investigation.

President Obama led a Democratic Get out the Vote effort today visiting his fifth state in four days. He was at the University of Minnesota to stump for Mark Dayton who's running for governor. On the Republican side, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was stumping for Republican candidates in Florida. With elections only ten days away, she urged 2000 GOP activists to keep working until the last minute to guarantee wins.

I'm Don Lemon. "What the Week," begins right now.