Gary Condit Takes the Stand

By MATTHEW BARAKAT
|  Monday, Nov 1, 2010  |  Updated 6:00 PM PDT
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Gary Condit Takes the Stand

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U.S. Representative Gary Condit is surrounded by news photographers as he leaves his apartment building July 12, 2001 in Washington, DC. Major daily newspapers in Condit''s California congressional district called for the congressman to resign August 12, 2001. Condit fired back that the editorials were "unfair" and that he would soon speak publicly about his relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy.

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Former California Rep. Gary Condit told jurors Monday that he didn't murder Chandra Levy and insisted he cooperated fully with police when they investigated the Washington intern's disappearance nearly a decade ago.

But he continued to evade direct questions on cross-examination about whether he had an intimate relationship with Levy, saying "we're all entitled to some level of privacy."

A Salvadoran immigrant, Ingmar Guandique, is on trial for murdering and attempting to assault Levy back in 2001. Prosecutors say Guandique had a history of assaulting female joggers in Rock Creek Park, where Levy's remains were found.

 But it is Levy's relationship with Condit that vaulted her disappearance into a national sensation nine years ago. Condit was once the primary suspect of police but they no longer believe he had anything to do with Levy's death.

Condit testified Monday that he fully cooperated with the police investigation, despite his concerns that detectives were "incompetent" and out to get him.

The only question he refused to answer, he said, was when a detective asked in an initial interview if he'd had a sexual relationship with Levy.

Condit said he responded: "If you can tell me why that's relevant, I can answer the question." He said the detective never answered and the interview ended.

Until that interview -- about a week after Levy went missing -- Condit said he never realized he was considered a suspect. He had called D.C. police at the urging of Levy's father to make sure they were taking Levy's disappearance seriously, and he assumed that initial interview with police was to provide him an update on the investigation's status.

Prosecutor Amanda Haines never asked Condit if he and Levy had an affair, but she did ask why he never acknowledged an affair. His voice broke slightly, and he said it was "purely based on principle."

 "I think we're all entitled to some level of privacy ... It seems like in this country we've lost a sense of decency. I didn't commit any crime; I don't think I've done anything wrong."

On cross-examination, though, public defender Mario Hawilo put the question to Condit directly: Did you ever have an intimate relationship with Levy?

 "I have already stated I'm not going to respond to those questions," Condit said.

Hawilo persisted until Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher told her to move on.

The issue came up repeatedly throughout the cross-examination, with Hawilo asking at one point: "Are you refusing to respond because you think the answer will incriminate you?"

At another point, Hawilo suggested Condit failed to give police the whole truth about his relationship. Police asked him in one interview, "What was the nature of your relationship with Miss Levy?" and Condit responded he was friends with her. In his testimony Tuesday, he insisted he gave the full truth to police but declined to answer whether he equated a sexual relationship with friendship.

Eventually, the judge rubbed his face in frustration and called the attorneys for a bench conference. He never required Condit to answer the question directly about his relationship with Levy.

 Throughout his testimony, Condit, a Democrat who represented parts of central California, referred to police investigators that he believed were hounding him unfairly and refusing to believe legitimate alibis he provided to them. He constantly referred to the media attention as a "circus" and said investigators were "out of line" when they demanded to interview his wife.

Condit also became emotional when he described how the Sept. 11 attacks wiped his name from the headlines. He said there were 100 reporters staking out his apartment that morning. After the planes hit, they were all gone, he said.

At the end of his direct testimony, Haines asked Condit directly: Did you murder Chandra Levy? He responded "No." He also responded "no, ma'am" to the question of whether he had anything to do with her disappearance.

Condit testified that he last saw Levy a week before she disappeared and they discussed whether he could help her make some contacts with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies where she hoped to work. Condit told her he would help.

"We never had a fight. We never had any cross words," he said.

Dressed in a blue oxford shirt and a sportcoat, Condit's hair has gone completely gray. He described himself as retired.

In the courtroom, taking careful notes on his testimony, was Chandra's mother Susan Levy, who has been in the courtroom throughout the trial and was fiercely critical of Condit throughout the investigation.

Prosecutors acknowledged in their opening statement that police failed in the Levy investigation by focusing on Condit to the exclusion of others, allowing Guandique to "hide in plain sight" as investigators failed to link Levy's disappearance with the attacks on the other joggers in Rock Creek Park, even though Levy had looked up information on Rock Creek Park on her laptop right before she disappeared.

Defense attorneys have said the investigation was bungled so badly that it has been impossibly compromised and that Guandique has been made a scapegoat.

 During Monday's cross-examination, Hawilo questioned Condit's assertion that he'd been fully cooperative. They asked why he invoked the Fifth Amendment in a grand jury interview in April 2002 and suggested he was worried about incriminating himself.

Condit testified that he was despondent because he'd just lost his primary re-election campaign and he thought the prosecutor "was there to do what he could to try to trick me or cause me pain."

Condit left the courthouse, joined by his daughter, and did not answer any questions. Susan Levy also declined comment through her attorney.
 

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