Sat, 21 Feb 2009 21:50:05 +0000 – By Jeffrey Scott ShapiroInvestigative Reporter/Attorney
This morning, Washington Metropolitan Police contacted the parents of Chandra Levy to let them know that an arrest was imminent in her murder case.
Their suspect is not former Congressman Gary Condit.
Condit, as you may recall was the U.S. Representative from Modesto, California who was relentlessly accused of orchestrating Levy's disappearance in an illegal kidnapping and murder plot. For several years, so-called "media experts" and pundits didn't hesitate to spout their theories on national television shows or in supermarket tabloids that Condit was having an affair with Levy and either had her kidnapped or murdered her in cold blood.
The Condit case is clear evidence that people are sometimes guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion. If any good can come from the case, perhaps it will serve as a reminder that people always deserve a presumption of innocence until there is actual evidence they have committed a crime.Vanity Fair Middle East
Like the JonBenet Ramsey murder and O.J. Simpson case, the supermarket tabloids drove the Levy story, dominating the national media with continued weekly updates and accusations that pointed at the Condits. In fact, The National Enquirer even outright accused Gary Condit's wife, Carolyn, of murdering Levy.
In 2008, the Washington Post ran a 13-part series that referred to the story as "a tale of the tabloid and mainstream press pack journalism that helped derail the investigation."
After nearly eight years, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department has obtained a warrant for Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran national who has a lengthy history of arrests for violent attacks in the Washington area and was rumored to have spent time in Rock Creek Park where Levy's corpse was eventually discovered in May 2002.
In fact, in 2001, the same year Levy disappeared Guandique was arrested but never prosecuted for Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Aggravated Assault, Armed Kidnapping and Burglary in multiple incidents. After Levy's disappearance, he was arrested and prosecuted in an unrelated Assault with Intent to Rob case and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Another interesting fact that was widely known to the media was the disappearance and declared homicide of Joyce Chiang, an INS attorney who lived only four blocks away from Levy. Chiang, who was also a petite Brunette like Levy was eventually found murdered when her body washed up in the Anacostia River.
Although the media knew about Guandique and the Chiang murder, many journalists and so called experts continued to cast suspicion on Gary Condit simply because it was sexier to accuse a Congressman than a faceless, unemployed immigrant who had little, if any heft in society.
The story that everyone wanted to tell was that a powerful politician had engaged in a secret relationship with a young and beautiful but naive Washington intern. After this naive young woman made several visits to his Congressional office, he became nervous that she was going to reveal their affair and so he killed her or hired someone to do so.
Never, at any time, was there ever any evidence that Condit had anything to do with Levy's disappearance or her murder. But people assumed that since she'd disappeared, only someone as powerful as a Congressman could have arranged her kidnapping. The Washington Metro police also leaked that Condit had been dishonest about his relationship with Levy during his first interview when in reality, he hadn't told them simply because they never actually asked. Condit knew he wasn't involved in Levy's disappearance, so he didn't see what possible relevance his relationship with her could have had, anyway.
In the O.J. Simpson case there was a mountain of evidence that pointed toward the former NFL star. -- Not only that, he was also happened to be indicted and prosecuted for Nicole Brown's murder. In the JonBenet Ramsey case, although the parents were never prosecuted, they were in the house at the time their daughter was murdered -- which fueled suspicion they were somehow involved. In the Condit case, however there was nothing except blind suspicion -- fueled by tabloid paranoia and random television talk show guests -- who billed themselves as experts worthy of being heard.
As a result of the Levy case, Condit lost his re-election bid for Congress in Modesto where he was long considered a champion of the California Valley. He also suffered the humiliation and pain of being accused of murder while his family was repeatedly haunted by the media and wrote about his personal relationship with Levy.
None of this was necessary and none of it actually helped further the investigation, but it did result in destroying Condit's political career. As a result, the people of California lost a hard-working, dedicated representative who fought passionately for their interests. At the very least, Gary Condit deserves an apology from anyone who implied or outright suggested his involvement in this terrible crime.
Although people are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, the Condit case is clear evidence that people are sometimes guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion. If any good can come from the Condit case, perhaps it will serve as a reminder that people always deserve a presumption of innocence until there is actual evidence they have committed a crime.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is a Washington, D.C. based investigative reporter and attorney who investigated the disappearance of Chandra Levy and defended U.S. Congressman Gary Condit in several California based news columns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .