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Police Search Condit's D.C. Home

Inquiry: Congressman is also asked to provide DNA sample, take polygraph test in missing intern case.

July 11, 2001|STEPHEN BRAUN and ANUJ GUPTA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Police moved forcefully Tuesday to learn about Chandra Levy's final contacts with Rep. Gary A. Condit, searching the Californian's downtown condominium and asking him to provide them with a DNA sample and submit to a polygraph test.

Less than a day after Condit's lawyer said the congressman would voluntarily allow police to pore over materials that would normally require a search warrant, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said, "We want to take him up on that offer."

Local television stations showed police officers entering Condit's condominium through the back door about 11:30 p.m. EDT.

"What you're looking for could involve blood, hair, telltale signs of a struggle," Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer, Washington's second-ranking police official, told Associated Press.

The prospects for a polygraph test remained less certain after Condit's attorney, Abbe Lowell, expressed doubt Monday on its "usefulness"--though he added he would consider a police request for one.

Ramsey said that a polygraph exam would help authorities determine the "exact nature of the relationship" between Condit and Levy--a comment that echoed private police comments that investigators were still hazy on the nature of their relationship and their contacts in the days before Levy, an intern for the federal Bureau of Prisons, disappeared sometime on May 1 in Washington shortly before she was to return home to Modesto.

"Numerous questions have been asked, and we need to get some kind of clarity about this," Ramsey said. He added that he wanted the polygraph administered by the FBI because "they have the expertise."

FBI agents have been involved in the case since mid-May, requested by Ramsey because of the agency's close working relationship with the D.C. department and because of the wide jurisdiction involved in searching for clues in Levy's disappearance. FBI agents have interviewed witnesses and acquaintances of both Levy and Condit from Virginia to California's Central Valley in recent weeks.

Sources familiar with the inner workings of the D.C. Police Department's major-crime units said Ramsey's request for a polygraph test does not suggest that police are closer to considering Condit a suspect in Levy's disappearance. Ramsey and other police officials have repeated that Condit is not a suspect nor have they found any evidence that a crime was committed.

Polygraph tests are often used, one former D.C. homicide detective said, to "rule out suspects and finish up one phase of an investigation."

Although publicly neutral about Condit's availability, police officials have been privately frustrated by Condit's slowness to open up about his relationship with Levy. The congressman reportedly acknowledged in an interview with detectives last weekend that he had an affair with Levy. The admission came after two earlier interviews failed to establish the depth of that relationship.

Even though polygraph tests are not admissible in court in the District of Columbia and many states, the peril in taking one, said the former detective, "is failing it."

Although Lowell said Monday that he would be willing to consider a polygraph request, his experience with similar tests left him dubious about their credibility. On Tuesday, Marina Ein, a spokeswoman who works with Lowell, said only that Condit stands prepared to cooperate with police.

"Mr. Lowell would not have made the offer he made if it were not serious," Ein said. "The police have taken them up on that offer, and the details will be worked out."

The police chief conceded that the department's forensic investigators--who also would be aided by FBI technicians--might be hampered by evidence "degraded" over the two months since Levy disappeared.

In Modesto, Robert Levy, the father of the missing woman, echoed Ramsey's concern about the passage of time. "If that's what they want to do now . . . ," he said, "10 weeks ago would have been a good time."

At one point during a news conference, Ramsey acknowledged that investigators had wanted to search Condit's residence earlier, but were stymied from doing so. Ramsey did not elaborate on the remark. But one source familiar with criminal procedure involving federal elected officials said that before Condit's agreement Monday to allow a search, police would have had to inform Justice Department officials before they had sought a search warrant to go through his residence.

Billy Martin, a former federal prosecutor who is representing the Levy family in their dealings with Condit and police and who is heading up a private investigation into her disappearance, said he was "glad [Condit's] lawyer has made that offer and the police have accepted it."

But Martin was still sharply critical of Condit's failure to be explicit both about his relationship with Chandra Levy and his contacts with her in the days before she disappeared. Condit has acknowledged that he talked with her as late as April 29--the last day she was seen.

Citing reports that Condit admitted his affair with Chandra Levy to police, Martin noted the congressman "still hasn't to the Levys." He urged Condit to agree to a polygraph exam "to end this darkness."

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Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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