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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

'Preppy Killer' Free

Aired February 14, 2003 - 08:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: After 15 years behind bars, Robert Chambers, the so-called preppy killer, is free. This morning, Chambers was released from a maximum security prison in upstate New York.
In a moment, we'll talk with the woman who prosecuted Chambers.

But first, Jason Carroll reports on the case that became a tabloid sensation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was known as the preppy murder. The victim, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin, a prep school graduate. The killer, 19-year-old Robert Chambers, a prep school partier with a history of drug abuse.

(on camera): The two met at a party and became friends. In August of 1986, they came here, to Dorian's, a bar on the Upper East Side. And later that night, they were seen leaving together. The following morning, a bicyclist found Levin's partially nude body right here in Central Park, over there by that tree. She had been strangled to death.

(voice-over): During a taped confession, Chambers admitted accidentally killing Levin during rough sex, claiming he, too, was a victim.

ROBERT CHAMBERS: And she molested me in the park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's raping you in the park?

CHAMBERS: She's having her way with me without my consent, with my hands behind my back.

CARROLL: Chambers struck a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter. Sentence? Five to 15.

CHAMBERS: Nothing I can do or say will ever bring her back. But I am sorry.

CARROLL: Levin's family never believed it. They say a home video of Chambers joking about the killing confirmed their feelings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAMBERS: Oops. UNIDENTIFIED MALE:

CHAMBERS: Stop! I think I killed her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Chambers' problems continued in prison, 27 offenses for drugs and violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he can't behave himself in prison, what's going to happen on the streets?

CARROLL: He's now 36. This spring, Jennifer Levin would have been 35.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And former New York Assistant D.A. Linda Fairstein was the lead prosecutor in the Chambers' case. She writes about the preppy killer trial in the March issue of "Cosmopolitan."

And Linda Fairstein, now a best selling author, joins us from Miami, Florida this morning.

Good to see you again.

Good morning, Linda.

LINDA FAIRSTEIN, FORMER MANHATTAN ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: What are you afraid that Mr. Chambers is going to do now that he's free?

FAIRSTEIN: Well, I think, Paula, that he's a sociopath and I think he's never shown any remorse for killing this friend of his with his bare hands. And he's had this terrible record in prison of drug addiction, of possession of cocaine and heroin. I think that he hasn't used this time to detox, to rehab, that he comes out still a substance abuser, still without remorse is a bad sign.

ZAHN: There was a published report this morning suggesting that he got away with quite a lot in prison, that he would actually swap, allegedly, female visitors to other inmates in exchange for drugs.

Was that really widely known and do you really believe that happened?

FAIRSTEIN: Nothing that he would do surprises me. He's always put his own interests ahead of anybody else. He was stealing to support his habit from close friends and their families for six years before he killed Jennifer. So nothing shocks me and these stories have been coming out of prison for years now.

ZAHN: Have you had any contact with Jennifer Levin's mother, of course, who lost her life in this whole sordid story?

FAIRSTEIN: Jennifer's family gave me the great gift of putting Jennifer's life in my hands for the course of this work. I have enormous respect for all of the Levins, Jennifer's mother, father, stepmother and her wonderful sister Danielle, yes.

ZAHN: And how tortured are they about his going free?

FAIRSTEIN: Well, this is a day they knew would come. The Chambers get their son back and nothing brings Jennifer back. And I think on top of that, again, the sort of celebrity frenzy that becomes created around Chambers is appalling.

ZAHN: But you still understand to this day why this case is still haunting, don't you?

FAIRSTEIN: Yes, I think on many levels why it's so haunting and what it represented at the time, and so many of the issues that were explored. I also think it would not be treated the same way today by the tabloid media, nor in the courtroom, blaming Jennifer, that is, for her own death.

ZAHN: Yes, boy, you're right. That certainly has changed, thankfully.

You write a very powerful article in "Cosmo" magazine about why women are attracted to men like Robert Chambers. People can pick up a copy of that to find out what else you have to say.

Linda Fairstein, thank you so much for spending a little time with us this morning.

FAIRSTEIN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Appreciate your dropping by.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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