Monday, July 28 at Noon ET
Who Killed Chandra Levy
Monday, July 28, 2008; 12:00 PM
Investigative editor Jeff Leen and reporters Sylvia Moreno, Scott Higham, Sari Horwitz were online Monday, July 28 at noon ET to discuss the conclusion of The Post's multi-part narrative investigation of the murder of Chandra Levy.
A transcript follows.
Jeffrey Leen: Good afternoon. We're back to answer your questions about the Chandra Levy serial narrative. Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham and Sylvia Moreno will be answering your questions, along with their editor, Jeff Leen. All questions will be answered collectively.
Odenton, Md.: Hi. While I found this news series interesting and did read it every day, I still have no clue why the Post dedicated such prime real estate to this series. I'm still left pondering the following questions: What was the point of these articles? What was I supposed to walk away with?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cold cases out there. Yes, the Levy case is local and it is sad that there is no closure to it. But it's not surprising and certainly not an isolated case. Chandra Levy had a connection to a high-profile person (Condit). But if she hadn't, this case wouldn't have had the publicity it did when it first happened and it certainly wouldn't have warranted a 12-part, plus epilogue series in the Post.
Jeffrey Leen: Any time a newspaper publishes a serial narrative the argument can be made that too much attention was paid to one subject. The San Francisco Chronicle did 39 parts on the making of a bottle of wine. The Philadelphia Inquirer did 29 parts on the shooting down of a helicopter and the subsequent street battle involving U.S. marines in Somalia. The Washington Post has run many series that were longer or took up more real estate than the Chandra Levy series. This series, however, because of the subject matter and the international interest in case, has received much more attention than almost any series we have done. We did a series on police shootings in the District in 1998 that took up 19 pages in the newspaper; the Chandra Levy series took up 10.5. Last year, we did a 13-part series on the D.C. schools.
We chose the Chandra Levy case because it is an ongoing mystery that raises questions about the performance of the D.C. police department in a case that the whole world was watching. We have always seen the story as an investigation into police mistakes driven by human foibles and intense media scrutiny. As such, it is a story of our time.
Rockville, Md.: Just a comment. It was a great series and the writing was fantastic. You should be proud of your work...we need to see more of this type of reporting from The Washington Post. I believe there are a lot more stories out there "in the big city."
Jeffrey Leen: Thank you very much. We are always open to listening to story ideas. Please send an email if you have an idea.
Washington, D.C.: What was the Post's daily Web traffic for this series? How does that compare to other Web packages?
Jeffrey Leen: We are not allowed to disclose specific numbers because that is proprietary business information. But we can confirm that the online readership of this series is among the largest of any investigative series we have done.
Arlington, Va.: Let's just go ahead and get to the question you must be hearing a lot: what's stopping D.C. police from investigating and potentially prosecuting Ingmar Guandique now, since you have found so much evidence against him?
Jeffrey Leen: As far as we know, there is no physical evidence tying Guandique or anyone else to the crime. The case is still open.
Hartford, CT: As someone who does not live in the DC metro area and does not read the Post daily (I come to the WP for Weingarten's chat and then nose around) I read this serialization each day and I appreciated learning about what probably happened to Chandra. It seems like the police missed a lot of opportunities, and this was a high profile case where they should have been paying even closer attention -- that surely does not bode well for all of the other murder investigations, like that of Joyce Chiang. Thanks for the good work.
Jeffrey Leen: Thank you for your comment.
Alexandria Va: What is the reason for Chandra's running pants tied in knots? Why would an attacker do this?
Based on your knowledge of the case, is there any chance in the whole wide world that Chandra was not attacked and instead was disabled in a freak accident?
Jeffrey Leen: Investigators do not believe that Chandra was disabled in a freak accident. There are several theories about the knotted pants. Some investigators believe that she was tied up and sexually assaulted. Others think that the pants were used as a yoke to drag her down the hill. The assailant might have knotted the end of each pant leg to get a better grip.
Arlington, Va.: I thought this was an excellent series, but I agree with many who thought it was too long and drawn-out. I also found it salacious that the reporters opted to repeatedly mention Chandra's semen-stained "black panties." Can you all say why the color of Chandra's underwear was relevant to the story or the investigation? To me, it seemed like an extraneous, salacious and invasive detail.
Jeffrey Leen: Chandra's underwear, which was found in her apartment, became one of the important elements of the investigation. Police needed to know whose DNA was on the garment. This meant they needed to negotiate with Rep. Gary Condit for a DNA sample. We included it because it showed the steps police had to take which consumed time and attention during their investigation.
Arlington, Va.: Thank you so much for this series. Even though I lived here during the time of Chandra's murder, I never knew that much about the story. Reading this series is like learning about it for the first time.
And for all the people who complain about the story taking up so much space in the paper: I could say that every day about the Sports section. I appreciate The Post covering a variety of stories to reflect their diverse readership.
Jeffrey Leen: Thank you for your comment.
Suitland, MD: Chandra's family never mentioned disapproval that her daughter was having an affair with an older married man. Were they surprised to find that out?
Jeffrey Leen: Robert Levy did not know his daughter was involved with an older married man. Susan Levy suspected but did not know for sure.
Formerly DC: Has there been a reaction, either official or not, from the DC police? I think the importance of the Levy story is that it illustrates the unfortunate result of too many criminal investigations: nothing results of them. This comes from both limitations of resources and in some cases, lack of interest (how many random minority women in the wrong part of town disappear without much notice?). Too bad the Post doesn't have the resources to work on more cold cases, either!
Jeffrey Leen: We have not heard from the D.C. police yet.
Anonymous: After all the uproar, you take the series off the website the day you are going to chat about it? I wanted to catch up on yesterday's epilogue, and I can't even get a link to it through the print version. What are you all thinking?
washingtonpost.com: Who Killed Chandra Levy?
Jeffrey Leen: Here is the link below. You can also find the entire series and an archive of the Post Investigative Unit's other projects by visiting our Investigative Blog at washingtonpost.com/investigations.
Bethesda, Md.: The series was well-written and at times a compelling read (especially in the early installments), but in the end I found it disappointing because it didn't seem to add much to what I already knew. In the first one or two installments, the explanation of various police errors and the specific wways they failed was interesting and maybe new. I understand the potential value of a multipart series on something like a cold case, but I think the readers should come away with a sense that they actually learned something from it. Sorry, but I just didn't get that from most of this series. (Maybe my expectations were raised by the fact that it was in 12 parts -- I might have expected less, and been less frustrated in the end, if it had been less drawn out.)
Jeffrey Leen: In our Reporter's Notebook on Sunday we published a list of 30 of the most important new disclosures in the series. You can find the Reporter's Notebook at washingtonpost.com/investigations, on the upper left hand corner of the page. Many people focused on the fact that the series was 12 parts, not realizing the parts were much shorter than we usually publish in a regular multi-part investigative series. We also did not stop the narrative and point out the new information as we were introducing it because we did not want to interfere with the reading experience.
Syracuse, NY: Excellent series. It brought to light many facts that were initially unknown to me, especially the predator in the park.
To those who complain that too much space and time were devoted to this series, I would simply respond that they are free to get their news and information from other sources.
Jeffrey Leen: Thank you for your comment. We have heard from many, many readers who share your opinion.
Washington, DC: I never believe Gary Condit committed murder, but it always seemed to me that he really dug himself into a hole of suspicion by his ridiculous behavior.
In your interviews with the former Congressman, did you get a sense of why he behaved so strangely during the investigation such as throwing the watch box away?
Jeffrey Leen: Former congressman Gary Condit wanted to keep his personal life private. The white-hot nature of the case made that impossible.
Silver Spring, MD: I thought your series was interesting, particularly the aspect about how the media drove the investigation. It seems that the Levys early on jumped to the conclusion that Condit had something to do with their daughter's disappearance and, because they had the financial means to generate media attention, they inadvertently pushed the investigation in the wrong direction. If the police had not had to deal with all the media-generated false leads, they might have found her murderer earlier.
Jeffrey Leen: Thank you for your comment. That is an interesting point of view.
Murder On A Horsetrail: The author of the book "Murder On a Horsetrail" doesn't agree with you on who the likely murderer is. He makes some interesting points that can't be discounted. Why is everyone now convinced that Condit didn't have anything to do with it? He's still got to be a prime suspect. Most murders are committed by someone known by the deceased. Hard to buy the "just an unfortunate victim of a random crime" that day.
Jeffrey Leen: Investigators found no evidence that Gary Condit had anything to do with Chandra's disappearance and murder. They looked at that question very, very hard, and found nothing.
Sad But Well Done: I read every chapter of the story and watched the video with the Levy's. The whole story just broke my heart. At the time of Chandra's disappearance, although it was heartbreaking the media coverage was saturating and overbearing. I mentioned the series to a few friends and of course their first question was "Why? It's been 7 years!" After I explained your reasoning (Thanks to the first chat you did) they all said they'd be reading the series.
So no question, just a comment. I hope that MPD has learned some lessons from this. I hope that Chandra's parents find some peace somehow. I even hope good things for Rep. Condit, even though he's an adulterous snake. It's just sad that the Levy's may never have the closure of seeing Chandra's murderer on trial and subsequently in jail. Thanks for a thoughtful and touching series. I personally think you did the right thing in publishing it.
Jeffrey Leen: Thank you for your comment.
Washington, D.C.: I agree with most that this story may have taken up too much space. However, my bigger qualm is that the Washington Post basically convicted Ingmar Guandique by focusing so much attention on him. He may well have done it but the Post seems to be falling into the same trap that it so relentlessly beat up on the DC Metro police for falling into: putting on blinders and chasing down rabbit holes. I realize that the Post is not the police and therefore doesn't investigate all possibilities but why do you have to write the article in such a way that makes this a "case shut"?
Jeffrey Leen: The case is still open. We interviewed Ingmar Guandique in prison by telephone twice and offered him the chance to answer all questions about the case. He spoke with us for a while and then he broke off communication. We also exchanged letters with him. More of his interview with us appears online in various chapters of the serial, starting with Chapter Six.
the ultimate question: What do the Levy's think of this series, and do they beleive Gary Condit had nothing to do with their daughter's death, that it was the random act of a stranger?
Jeffrey Leen: The Levys have been following the serial closely and hope that anybody with any information about their daughter's murder will come forward.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: I liked this series, but the fact is, you guys buried the lede. It seems to me that the lede is "police error with respect to suspect lets crime go unsolved"; I didn't even know Guandique existed until halfway through the series.
Jeffrey Leen: We said in Chapter One of the serial that "critical leads were ignored, allowing a killer to escape justice."
We chose not to introduce Guandique until Chapter Six because we wanted to try to tell the story as a serial narrative in real time, unfolding as it happened through the eyes of the investigators and the investigated.
Odenton, MD: You didn't answer my questions:
What was the point of these articles? What was I supposed to walk away with?
Jeffrey Leen: Police mistakes allowed a killer to go free.
An innocent man has been unfairly convicted in the public mind.
A media frenzy helped derail the investigation.
Everyone thought they knew this story, but they really didn't.
Were there any more attacks in Rock Creek Park after Guandique was arrested? If not, it is interesting that they stopped.
Jeffrey Leen: There were no other attacks on runners in the park following Guandique's arrest. Investigators, including well-known criminal profiler Kim Rossmo, consider that fact to be very interesting.
Arlington, Va.: Thanks for the series, it was a topic of discussion at several social events recently.
Based on the article the police believe they missed Chandra's body in the first search of the park. Was it ever considered that her body was not in the park until after they initially searched, or was it obvious once it was found that it had been there all along?
Jeffrey Leen: Police believe the body had been there all along based on the way her belongings were spread down the hill off the Western Ridge Trail.
Beaumont, TX: My dearest friend works for the Houston Chronicle, hence, I'm always interested in how a story unfolds. I realize you had years of files in which disparate bits and pieces were strewn and you 4 reporters took the whole thing, took a fresh look and put everything together. That's what I most appreciated about the series. Also the multimedia presentation. It was interesting to hear the Levys talk, the investigators' comments. I wish you had used those same methods more with your Walter Reed investigation. I'd like to see you apply this same format to some thorny long-term issues plaguing our country. Example: (You're in the city of agencies and hearings) Why are our fruits and vegetables continually developing problems causing human illness? What's going on with Internet overload? What are the statistics and conditions undocumented aliens have to work under? Just some suggestions. I give you high praise for this series. Thanks a lot! (from a regular, daily, WP reader)
Jeffrey Leen: Thanks for your comment.
Princeton, NJ: Was the murder weapon ever found? If the informant's information was correct, a knife should have been left with the body. Is there any evidence that a knife was used?
Jeffrey Leen: No murder weapon was ever found. The medical examiner could not determine how she was killed.
cold cases: With so many unsolved murders going way back to the crack epidemic, how does the cold case unit work?
Maybe that should be your next series.
Jeffrey Leen: Stories have been written in the Post about cold cases in D.C. You may be right about a series, though.
Anonymous: Do you have any hope that your series might bring forth witness information to the DC police that has not previously been forthcoming?
Jeffrey Leen: One of the goals of investigating this crime was to unearth new information and generate tips and new leads. Any disclosures would be welcomed.
N.C.:"In our Reporter's Notebook on Sunday we published a list of 30 of the most important new disclosures in the series."
Was this intended from the beginning, or a reaction to the ombudsman criticisms?
Jeffrey Leen: We intended that from the beginning as a way to sum up the serial.
Herndon, Va.: I know some comments are along the line of "a poor minority woman being murdered wouldn't have received this coverage." That's right, but irrelevant - any murder with "intern", "disappeared," and "congressman" in it will receive more coverage than any "ordinary" murder. What worries me most - if a murder this extensively covered by the media still results in such dysfunctional work by the police - it's time to worry. What was the DC Chief's comment "we don't do forensics well"?!! Why not?
Jeffrey Leen: The D.C. police have gone through much turmoil dating back to the late 1980s. The new chief is trying to reorganize and improve the department. When Chief Gainer said the department was not forensically oriented, he was referring to troubles in the department's mobile crime unit during the time that Chandra disappeared.
Washington, DC.:. For God's sake go away!! How can this girl's death STILL be a story! Let her rest! There has got to be more on your minds in this day and age.
Jeffrey Leen: We are going away now. The series is over and we are out of time for questions. We appreciate everyone's interest.
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