Verdict in, Chandra Levy's mother seeks a 'new norm'

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 22, 2010 

WASHINGTON — A jury on Monday delivered justice to Susan Levy. Peace will have to come in its own sweet time.

“There’s always going to be a feeling of sadness,” said Levy, whose daughter, Chandra, was murdered on a wooded hiking trail in Washington, D.C. more than nine years ago. As for her killer's conviction on two counts of murder Monday, Levy said. “I can surely tell you, it ain’t closure,”

Since May 1, 2001, when Chandra was dragged into the bushes by Ingmar Guandique, Susan has spoken out many times, in many venues.

When her daughter first disappeared, Levy and her husband, Robert, used public appearances to help keep police focused on the case. For a long time, reporters chased them with questions about Gary Condit, the congressman with whom their daughter had been having an affair.

Periodically, Levy has fallen silent. Most recently, citing a judge's gag order, she has declined to speak with reporters covering Guandique's trial. With the verdict rendered Monday, she took the gag off for just a little while.

"I have a feeling my daughter is with me, and I can speak her voice," Levy said.

Since Guandique's trial began Oct. 25, Levy has haunted the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse. Day after day, she arrived in the company of several allies and took her seat in the third row of Courtroom 320. One of her sad-eyed compatriots, Southern California resident Maxine Russell, also lost a child.

Through 11 days of testimony and trial statements, she listened. She read, on occasion, when the legal wrangling became overly technical. She had needed special permission from D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher to attend the entirety of the trial, because of the possibility that she might testify. In the end, though, she bore mute witness, neither testifying nor speaking to reporters during breaks.

Robert Levy stayed home in Modesto, Calif., save for his one day on the witness stand Oct. 26. There, he did not cry even as he spoke of some intimate affairs. A physician, he explained that he had once helped his daughter obtain a birth control prescription.

“She said it was for her complexion,” he said.

Robert Levy’s most impassioned moment occurred when he blurted out his animus toward Condit, who he'd come to discover was sexually dallying with his daughter.

“I was suspicious of him…he was a primary suspect in our minds,” Robert Levy said, while the judge and an attorney tried to rein him back in.

Condit's Los Angeles attorney, Bertram Fields, said in a statement late Monday that "Condit has been vindicated and finally has closure."

"But who will give him his career back?" Fields added. "This should have happened years ago."

Susan Levy was present in the courtroom when Condit insisted that he would not answer questions about his sexual relationship with Chandra Levy. She was present when an FBI examiner testified to finding Condit's DNA in a semen stain found inside Chandra's panties.

One of the few times Susan Levy was not present in Courtroom 320 during the 11 days of testimony and statements was when a witness discussed her late daughter’s bones.

In certain light, Susan Levy looked to be ghost-white through the trial. She wore life-affirming fashions: a bright blue shirt one day, a wide-brimmed black hat another. Sometimes, she would talk on a cell phone in the hallway during a break.

Sometimes, she could be heard laughing.

Inside the courtroom, she did not show obvious signs of emotion. On Monday, though, her circulation seemed to be restored. She was wearing a butterfly pin on her lapel.

She closed her eyes a bit, before the verdict was read, and then she seemed to stare, hard, at Guandique when the judgment came down. After a while, she came outside to where the television cameras waited, accompanied by attorney Jani Tillery of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center.

She'd written out a statement, which she read carefully, losing her place once or twice.

"Sorry, I'm emotional here," Susan said.

She spoke across a range of topics. She praised the work of victims' rights organizations. She thanked both the prosecutors and Guandique's defense team. She obliquely criticized the press, saying she now understands why her daughter "gave up her press pass."

She quoted from D.C.'s poet laureate, Dolores Kendrick, and she offered some social prescriptions.

"You need to wake up and stop the violence," she said.

Maybe in the future, she said, she'll be willing to talk at greater length about what she has gone through; but, for now, she would like to stop talking.

“Give me a little time, to find a new norm," she said.

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