How to Build a Criminal Case...

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, May 23, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

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If it is determined Chandra Levy was murdered, what will it take to build a case once police have a suspect?  Joining us from New York, investigative journalist Lisa DePaulo, who's covered the Chandra Levy case extensively.  And here with me in Washington is retired circuit court judge Vincent Femia.

Judge Femia, first to you.  Not much information for a prosecutor.  Lots of suspects, at this point.  Not easy to make a case, at least at this point.

VINCENT FEMIA, RETIRED CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE:  No.  If you're the prosecutor in this case -- and I was 10 years a prosecutor, tried a lot of murder cases -- this is the point where the prosecutor wants to stay out of the police officers' way and let them do their job.  You got a good department here in the District, a good homicide squad.  You got to let them do their job.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Boy, I'll tell you...

FEMIA:  Prosecutor can't make evidence.

VAN SUSTEREN:  You know, and I tell you, in this case, scientific evidence sure would help out the prosecution.

FEMIA:  Yeah.  And in fact, this is going to be almost entirely a circumstantial case.  In fact, I don't see how it can be anything but circumstantial.  And in this case, you know, it's the old -- the old story.  You got two things you got to prove, corpus delecti -- I heard people last night on -- on your who, in fact, saying, "Oh, well, there's no body."  But you don't need a body, but you need corpus delecti.  And you need identification...

VAN SUSTEREN:  I never understood those terms.

FEMIA:  I know.

VAN SUSTEREN:  I don't know what that means.

FEMIA:  For the layperson, which you're not, but for the lay viewer...

VAN SUSTEREN:  I am on that term!

FEMIA:  Well, for the lay viewer, corpus delecti means you have to first prove beyond a reasonable doubt a crime was committed.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And indeed, this could be -- it still could be an accident or a suicide.

FEMIA:  That's a real problem.  And then you have to prove who done it.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Right.  Lisa, the timeline -- I challenged both -- I couldn't get it from Chief Gainer.


VAN SUSTEREN:  I couldn't get it from Mark Geragos.  Do you have any thoughts on this timeline for at least Gary Condit, who is in this universe of people?  And there are a lot of people who are suspects.

DEPAULO:  Well, it's fascinating that Mark Geragos has to run back and get permission to tell you where his client was that day, when his own client released a timeline to the media that did have a lot of holes in it and...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Well, give me an idea -- give me an idea of this timeline.  I'm still sort of curious.  He...

DEPAULO:  Right.

VAN SUSTEREN:  He finished seeing the vice president at 12:55.  She signed off her computer at 1:00 o'clock.  That doesn't mean he committed a crime.  Doesn't even mean a crime's been committed.  But where was he?

DEPAULO:  For several hours, he says he was in his congressional office.  One would assume that many of the people on his payroll can vouch for that.  He had a doctor's appointment but never specified where, when, who.  He claimed to have spent the evening with his wife.  And there was -- but there were parts in this timeline that he released that were wrong.  I mean, at one point, he said he was meeting with a news reporter who -- producer, who turned out to have met him on a different night.  So there were holes in the timeline before.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Judge, why -- I mean, like, you know, this is what I don't understand, this whole timeline.  I've been fixated since May 1st.  You know, a minute-by-minute -- and you know, look, you know, in this day and age, we all have these -- you know, these little electronic devices where we keep track, practically, of what we do.  So do members of Congress and everybody else.

Why not release it, if you're the congressman, where you were?

FEMIA:  Well, I can't answer that.  You're going to have to go talk to his lawyer, who says he has to go...

VAN SUSTEREN:  But as a -- but as a...

FEMIA:  ... talk to his client.

VAN SUSTEREN:  But as a tactical matter, a strategic matter, the -- you ought to release it.

FEMIA:  Well, I don't know.  We're not talking law here, we're talking about strategy that you, as a defense lawyer -- you personally, as a defense lawyer -- you make those and you decide how that strategy should be played.  I assume he didn't go to a lawyer because he goes to a lawyer every day just to keep track of where he is.  I assume there's a reason he went to the lawyer, and I assume he ought to be following...


FEMIA:  ... the lawyer's advice, whatever that advice is.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And indeed, he -- I mean, innocent people go to lawyers, as well -- I mean, all -- I mean...

FEMIA:  No question.

VAN SUSTEREN:  I mean, there's -- when -- especially when you're a target.  You may need a lawyer even more.

FEMIA:  One thing about this, Greta, that everybody has to be aware of and warned of.  This is not a case that's going to be resolved this weekend, next weekend.  It may not be resolved for years.  That's why there's -- you know, you and I know there's no statute of limitations on murder.  I know the media and the public, they want an answer.  They want an answer now.  "Who did this?"  We don't even know what was done, let along who did it.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And we don't even know if it's a homicide.

FEMIA:  And the worst thing that can happen is for a prosecutor to jump in with a piece of case to make the media and the public feel good, and then get his head handed to him and then find out he's out of the ballpark -- double jeopardy if he had the right guy and bad case if he had the wrong guy.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Lisa, what strikes you most about the last 24 hours?  You know, what's piqued your interest?

DEPAULO:  Well, one point just from what you were just saying is that, you know, even if Gary Condit can, you know, tell us exactly where he was every single second, that doesn't mean he wasn't involved in -- in this tragedy.  What...

VAN SUSTEREN:  But isn't that a little bit -- I mean, I -- I mean, that's sort of the -- that, to me, is, like, the huge sort of injustice, in the sense that, you know, we prove cases with evidence and, I mean, that's taking it even one step further.  I'd at least like to know what he was doing.  And we do have these other string of homicides...

DEPAULO:  Right.

VAN SUSTEREN:  ... and assaults and -- I mean, this Rock Creek Park has had lots of them over the year.  I had a murder case there years ago.

DEPAULO:  Absolutely.  But you know, he hasn't answered an awful lot of things.  He lied to Chandra's own parents.  And I don't mean just that he had...

VAN SUSTEREN:  Lied about sex, though.

DEPAULO:  Right, right, right.

VAN SUSTEREN:  I mean, you don't -- you know, I mean, that's -- that's not so unusual.  I mean, that doesn't mean he's committed a crime.

DEPAULO:  He may have more information about what she was really doing these last few hours, these last few days.  And I think that's really important because we don't know yet if she was in the park by choice, if she went to meet someone, if she just did happen to, you know, jog in the park, if she was abducted.  No one knows the answer to those questions yet.

VAN SUSTEREN:  And indeed, Lisa, that's probably the biggest disservice...

DEPAULO:  Right.

VAN SUSTEREN:  ... because maybe if we had some information, her body would have been found earlier...

DEPAULO:  Well, that's the...

VAN SUSTEREN:  ... and her body would have physical clues, you know?

DEPAULO:  That is what's so important.  In these weeks that he was being evasive, at best, he might have been completely eliminated and they might have concentrated on other things.  We will never know what would have happened if everyone had been forthcoming from the beginning.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Thirty seconds, Judge.

FEMIA:  It's important that we not leave the impression that because he does not cooperate it is in some wise evidence of his guilt.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Without a doubt.

FEMIA:  It is not -- or is evidence that there was a crime committed!

VAN SUSTEREN:  That's not -- that's just a question of morality.

FEMIA:  I -- I...

VAN SUSTEREN:  And that's not a question of guilt.

FEMIA:  And he has no duty to the system whatsoever to say a word.  That he said anything is surprising to me.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Indeed...

DEPAULO:  I would say he has a duty not to lie.

VAN SUSTEREN:  All right, Lisa DePaulo, Judge Femia, thank you.

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