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East Side Story

Chambers's supporters say he didn't realize at first that Levin was dead, and he tried to rouse her from what may have seemed like a stupor or a game. Afterward, he made no effort to get help or to call the police. But he didn't run away. A cyclist found Levin's body at about 6:15, and Chambers stood at the stone wall of the museum, across the drive, as the police arrived. A policeman is said to recall seeing him there.

Chambers eventually returned home and reportedly slept for a few hours. He later told friends that he was still in shock, that at one point he spent what seemed like an hour searching for a tube of toothpaste that had been directly in front of him all the time.

The police found a wallet in Levin's jacket containing a single torn dollar bill, some fake identification, and a card for the Palladium belonging to LaGatta. The police got in touch with a doorman at the Palladium, who identified Levin from photographs of her body. Meanwhile, LaGatta had become concerned because Levin had not come in, and she phoned Levin's father's home at about ten. A detective was already there, and he asked LaGatta to find out whom Levin had last been seen with. LaGatta called Betsy and then Chambers. His mother answered and said he was in the shower. Moments later, Chambers called back and insisted that he and Levin had not gone off together after Dorrian's, that Levin had gone instead to visit Brock Pernice across town. Later, when talking to the police, LaGatta realized that Pernice was still on Long Island and that Chambers must have been lying.

The next morning, Chambers at first insisted that he hadn't left the bar with Levin.

At about two in the afternoon, the police came to Chambers's apartment and asked him to come with them to the station for questioning. There were scratches on both sides of Chambers's face, which he said had been made by a cat. (Later, more scratches were found on Chambers's chest, and he's said to have had a minor injury to his right hand.) Chambers went with the police to the Central Park Precinct Detective Unit, where he was questioned without a lawyer until about ten that night. He made a statement both in writing and on videotape, and then was jailed in connection with Levin's death.

On August 28, he was arraigned for the murder of Jennifer Levin while a number of his friends sat in the courtroom and watched. "We just wanted to show support," says Flanagan. Two weeks later, Chambers was indicted by a grand jury on two distinct counts of second-degree murder—one for murder with intent to kill and a second for murder as the result of an act that showed a depraved indifference to human life.

"We believe that either one or both of these occurred," Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau said in announcing the indictment. Under the second count, the prosecution would not need to show that Chambers actually intended to kill Levin. In either case, Morgenthau said, the grand jury charged that Chambers asphyxiated Levin by applying a "substantial amount of pressure" to her neck "over a substantial amount of time." Each count carries a maximum penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

Chambers stayed in jail until October 1, when he was released on bail of $150,000, under the condition that he report daily to Monsignor Thomas Leonard, who'd taught him at Saint David's. Leonard's parish, the Church of the Incarnation, is on St. Nicholas Avenue, near 175th Street. No trial date has been set.

A fortnight after Chambers was released on bail, Morgenthau announced the burglary indictments, and prosecutors have said Chambers is under investigation in connection with at least ten other burglaries. Although Chambers was questioned last year about the East Side break-ins, he wasn't arrested then, and Chambers's supporters claim that the charges are trumped up and are being used only to create prejudice against him.

Chambers's family has retained Jack Litman, 43, a Harvard-educated lawyer and former assistant D.A. who gained prominence defending Richard Herrin, a Yale graduate, on charges that he'd murdered his estranged girlfriend, another Yale student. Herrin had confessed to bludgeoning her to death, but the jury convicted him only of manslaughter. Litman had tried to show that Herrin's sense of identity was wrapped up in his relationship with the victim and that she had triggered his emotional collapse when she threatened to leave him.

Litman's defense of Chambers will rest in part on an opposite premise: that Chambers's relations with Levin were so casual and uneventfully pleasant that there was nothing she could have said or done to elicit from him the kind of violent reaction that might result in murder. In short, that he had no motive for killing her.


  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Nov 10, 1986 issue of New York
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