Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Larry King Live
Ellen Levin Discusses Her Daughter's Murder
Aired August 26, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: 16 years ago today, teenager Jennifer Levin is found brutally killed in New York's Central Park. The "Preppie Murder," as it came to be known, created a tabloid feeding frenzy, scandalizing the nation with accusations of rough sex. And now after 15 years in prison, Robert Chambers is scheduled to go free.
Joining us tonight for an exclusive interview: Ellen Levin, Jennifer's mother. She's scared that Chambers might kill again.
Plus I'm going to tell about my jailhouse visit with Robert Blake.
It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
By the way, last Saturday morning I went to Los Angeles County Jail, talked to Robert Blake; weren't allowed to tape it, but I kept notes, and we'll tell you what he had to say toward the end of the program.
Our guests for the night -- we'll include your phone calls -- is Ellen Levin. Her 18-year-old daughter Jennifer was killed 16 years ago today, August 26, 1986. In what became known as the Preppie Murder, Robert Chambers pled guilty to manslaughter in connection with the killing, was sentenced to 15 years and will be released from prison early next year.
Where were you 16 years ago today?
ELLEN LEVIN, DAUGHTER KILLED BY ROBERT CHAMBERS: Well, I was at work. And it was about 2:00 in the afternoon, I got a phone call, the phone call that every parent dreads.
LEVIN: It was my dad. He was crying. And I never heard my father cry. And he had trouble telling me what was wrong. I immediately thought it must be my mother, you know, something happened to my mother.
And he mentioned Jennifer. Jennifer's no longer with us, he said. And, you know, that it doesn't make sense. You certainly never expect that you're going to bury a child. So, "is no longer with us" made no sense to me.
KING: Did you go right home? LEVIN: I got hysterical. I got driven down to the apartment that my ex-husband had where everyone had gathered.
KING: You were married at the time?
LEVIN: No, divorced.
KING: Where were you working?
LEVIN: I was working at an advertising company.
Everyone had gathered; nobody could make the call to me. On the way downtown I was in complete denial. I'm thinking that it was an accident,that it's not...
KING: What did they tell you on the phone? That she was murdered or...
LEVIN: No, my dad said we'd lost her.
KING: So you had no idea what happened. Could have been car accident, could have been anything.
LEVIN: And I'm thinking It's a mistake altogether. I can't imagine that anything had happened to Jennifer. And I hear on radio -- this is my introduction to the media in this case -- that the body found behind the museum had been identified as that of Jennifer Levin.
KING: And this was a museum where?
LEVIN: In New York City.
KING: In Central Park?
KING: And now you know what happened.
LEVIN: Well, I went from, you know, disbelief into almost complete shock because I still didn't know what happened, by the way. They got to my ex-husband's apartment and there must have been 300 or 400 people already gathered. The press, obviously, the police, the curiosity seekers.
And I couldn't -- I mean, they had to pull me out of the car. I was just so overwhelmed with what was going on. And of course they were screaming, there's the mother, there's the mother. And they were running at me with cameras, and I was at a complete loss.
I mean, it's a horrible time in your life. You're so vulnerable to be besieged by the media like that for comment. Anyway, I was upstairs with the family and friends for I don't know how long before I heard my mother crying that they strangled our baby. And I had no idea...
KING: You didn't know it was a strangulation. You just knew it was a body found?
LEVIN: I just knew that it was her. I thought -- my mind had already had a scenario worked out, and that was that she liked to jog and she loved to ride bikes. I figured she was hit by a car. And they never asked. I mean, murder is such an evil thing to even entertain. It never entered my mind, never entered my consciousness.
KING: Who told you it was murder?
LEVIN: My mother when she was crying.
KING: It turned out to be manslaughter, not murder. But to you it was murder.
LEVIN: He killed her.
KING: Yes. Did you know Robert Chambers?
LEVIN: No, I never met him.
KING: Had she been dating him?
LEVIN: She had been out with him a couple times, I found out, you know, later, after the fact. He wasn't a serious boyfriend, he was more of a friend.
I mean, this is all I found out. But I know if he was serious, I would have met him because she was wanting me to meet anyone she was really serious with.
I think they were more friends than anything else.
KING: But they certainly had a relationship.
LEVIN: Yes they did.
KING: Was that tough to learn?
LEVIN: Not really. The tough part, of course, came with his claims of what kind of relationship it was, and his confession when he made up three or four different stories and then settled for the story of rough sex and that he killed her when she tried to have rough sex with him. That was quite shocking.
KING: Was Jennifer a girl who went out a lot? I mean...
LEVIN: She was a popular girl. She loved going out. She loved her friends.
KING: Was she in college yet, or...
LEVIN: She was -- as a matter of fact, the party that they went to at Dorian's (ph) was a week or two weeks before everyone was going college, including Jen.
KING: Where was she going? LEVIN: She was going to a junior college in Massachusetts.
KING: How did her father take it?
LEVIN: The death?
LEVIN: Terribly, I think.
KING: I mean, they were close?
LEVIN: Oh yes, definitely. The whole family was destroyed.
KING: Are your parents still living?
LEVIN: Yes they are, 82 and 87.
KING: OK, back to your concern, and then we'll get into the whole story.
You knew he had to get out when he got 15 years, right?
KING: How old was he?
LEVIN: He went in, I guess he was 21.
KING: So he'll be 36. So you knew when they said 15 years, you're going to...
LEVIN: You know, Larry, I mean, this is -- it seemed so far away at the time. And -- when your child is killed by somebody else, I don't think anything seems like justice. I don't even think, you know, the death penalty is justice. There's nothing that can bring back your child.
But when somebody goes away and is serving time and is being punished for it, it becomes a kind of appeasing thing that you can live with.
KING: He's gone.
LEVIN: He's away. He's away.
KING: Why was this, to the framework of those who didn't know anything about it who are watching, that big of a big story? I mean, it's tragic.
LEVIN: Yes, it was horrible.
KING: What made it that big? LEVIN: I think it had a lot of elements that just caused a feeding frenzy from the media. The elements included two kids from supposedly comfortable families, Upper East Side, Central Park, underage drinking and, of course, his confession that he used the word "rough sex."
So that's like made for the tabloids. I mean, what else...
KING: He was arrested right away? There was no doubt that he was the...
LEVIN: He wasn't arrested right away. They actually came to him for questioning to find out -- he was supposedly the last one seen with Jennifer leaving the bar.
KING: They left the party together?
LEVIN: Yes. And when the police came to question him, they noticed deep scratched on his face, which he claimed the cat did. And further questioning and further questioning, and they were suspicious, so they took him down -- took him into the station house.
And he was there for quite a while. And I think he made up about three or four different stories of what happened that night until he settled for the one that he accidentally killed her during rough sex.
KING: Was he family influential?
LEVIN: I don't know.
KING: When they say "preppie," what did his father do?
LEVIN: Well, his parents, I they lived on the Upper East Side. I think his parents were divorced as well.
KING: Did you ever meet them?
LEVIN: No. Well, I met them -- I saw them in court.
KING: But you never talked to them or anything?
LEVIN: No, no, no.
KING: And of course you saw a lot of Mr. Chambers.
LEVIN: Oh yes.
KING: Did you go to court every day?
LEVIN: Every day.
LEVIN: A good friend of mine, Dominick Dunne, told me something when I was facing this trial.
KING: A regular of this program, by the way.
LEVIN: Yes, a great guy.
And what he said to me was, I didn't think I could go to court. I told him, I don't think I could be in the same room with this guy.
And he said, you know Ellen, it's the last bit of business you have do for your daughter Jennifer, is to be there to represent her. And that was it; he was right.
KING: We're going take a break and come back. We'll be taking a lot of calls for Ellen Levin, who went through something that all of us dread: the loss of a child in a horrific way.
This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD (chanting): Murderer! Murderer!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That's a scene of frenzy as Mr. Chambers is escorted from court. Here is an example of the kind of person Robert Chambers was at that time. Months after the trial, "A Current Affair" -- and for those of you who don't know that show, that was probably the first tabloid television show -- obtained a home video made shortly before the trial. It shows Chambers cavorting with some scantily clad girls. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I killed it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was a little doll, he said he thought he killed it. How did you feel when you saw that?
LEVIN: I has horrified when I saw it, but in a way, I was also glad that he showed himself for what he really was, because, you know, there had been so much said about his altar boy image, his preppie image. In the beginning, there were doubts that anyone like that could commit a crime like this. And, you know, I think it all came out in the trial. But this was somebody on the eve of the trial who had committed a murder being able to cavort like that.
KING: And "Law and Order" has even done an episode.
LEVIN: I didn't see it. I heard about it. KING: OK. Why did they take a plea?
LEVIN: The jury was having a very difficult time deciding.
KING: They were out a long time?
LEVIN: A long time. I think it was about 12 days.
KING: Deciding over what?
LEVIN: Well, deciding on the murder charge, the manslaughter charge.
KING: They had options, right?
LEVIN: Yes. And there was a holdout, I understand. I don't know exactly what was going on, because you're never privy to that.
KING: Did he deny this all the way through until he finally..?
LEVIN: Pretty much. He pretty much said it was an accident.
KING: He didn't take the stand, did he?
LEVIN: No. Of course, you know, Jennifer's pictures, which I didn't look at, but everybody else did, showed the deep cuts on her throat, and I mean, this was no accident. Believe me, I would prefer that it was an accident, that she had died quickly.
KING: Were you shocked that the jury was out that long?
LEVIN: Yeah, everybody was. I think that everybody was shocked, including Linda Fairsteen (ph).
KING: And so finally, the defense agreed to sit down, talk and take a plea?
LEVIN: Yeah, because it looked like it was going into deadlock, and Linda sat with us, too. She confided in us every step of the way with the plea bargain.
KING: The prosecutor?
LEVIN: Yes. And she told us what we had to face. Number one, if it goes deadlock and has to be a retrial, it's another two years of him walking on the street with his headphones, like he did...
KING: Why did he have bail?
LEVIN: He got bail from some friends of his. Number one was Jack Dorian (ph) who owned a bar and another one was a priest.
KING: So he would have been out in bail again. This way he goes right to jail.
LEVIN: The condition was he goes right to their jail, except he gets one night to spend at home with his mother -- I don't know how that fit in there, but he did go home that night with his mother. And then he goes to jail and that's it. I don't think that we could have withstood -- I know I couldn't have withstood another trial.
KING: Let's watch the sentencing as Mr. Chambers stands up in court and -- watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAMBERS: Today we came to see the end of a trial, a trial with no answers, a trial with no winners. The Levin family have gone through hell because of my actions, and I am sorry. For two years, I have not been able to say I'm sorry. I've not been able to say anything. And I wish to have my feelings known.
Whoever said that time heals all wounds is definitely wrong, because how can these wounds heal? They linger forever, and the families will suffer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Did that impress you?
LEVIN: No. Not at all.
KING: No sympathy at all?
LEVIN: No. He -- you know, it was hard-pressed for him to say he was sorry. He never expressed any remorse before then, and he hasn't expressed any remorse after that.
KING: How angry were you at his attorney, Mr. Lipman (ph), right, Jack Lipman (ph)...
LEVIN: Quite angry.
KING: ... who appeared to put your daughter on trial. We recently had a case here in San Diego, as you probably know...
KING: ... where they put the parents on trial.
KING: How did you feel about making her a loose, wanton woman?
LEVIN: Well, let me put it this way, Larry. First of all, she was completely opposite of what they were claiming she was. She was a wonderful kid. Everybody loved her. She had so many friends. She was a wonderful daughter. And to have this said about her publicly in such a public arena...
KING: They were saying what, sexually loose?
LEVIN: He tried to bring up a sex diary. He made sure that made the headlines. There was no such sex diary. As a matter of fact, it was an appointment book that we actually had to bring in to the judge for him to look at to determine if it was relevant, and of course it wasn't. But he got his point across with the headlines.
It hurt. I felt like I was burying my daughter every time I opened the newspaper and read the horrible headlines, you know, attacking her reputation.
KING: And the newspapers, many of them played into that, didn't they?
LEVIN: Oh, yeah. They all did.
KING: I mean, they were bad days for Jennifer in the press.
LEVIN: It was. It was hard times. And you know, as a family who was in shock to begin with and not having any privacy to mourn, this was a double barrel whammy for us, that every time the newspaper got a hold of something else that they wanted to scream about, it was always Jennifer.
KING: She raped me.
LEVIN: She raped me, exactly. I mean, he's 6-foot-2, she was 5- foot-7.
KING: Sex play.
LEVIN: Right. And, by the way, there was never any sex. They never proved that there was any sex between them, so that wasn't even an issue.
KING: There was no entrance in the autopsy?
LEVIN: Nothing. No.
KING: She was dead by what?
KING: He strangled her with what?
LEVIN: Well, they don't know for sure. They think that it could have been her panties, they think it could have been his arm. They found marks from his watch on her neck. And we don't know for sure. He's the only one that knows the whole story, and I don't think we'll ever hear it.
KING: Of course, there are those who are going to say, a mother is going to deny that her daughter was -- you know, Pollyanna.
LEVIN: Jennifer was normal teenage girl. She was a great kid.
KING: She had sex?
LEVIN: She had had sex. She was 18 years old, who didn't at that age? She was not promiscuous. She was a party girl. She liked to go out with her friends, have a good time, come home at a respectable hour. A great girl.
KING: The prosecution released to authorities a videotape of Mr. Chambers' confession. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAMBERS: I was lying like this, OK, on my back. I couldn't move and I managed to get this hand free, and my legs are out, and she's facing this way, sort of kneeling on my chest. So I reached up like this and grabbed, and I came down like that on my hand.
She's flipping backwards.
She came over this way and landed right there, right next to the tree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You believe that?
KING: You don't think they were having sex? You don't think they were. Well, then the obvious...
LEVIN: There was no sign of sex at all.
KING: What was the motive?
LEVIN: We don't know. I wish I knew. Because -- well, we do know her earrings were missing when her body was found. She had these little -- they were actually zircons, but they looked like diamonds. Don't think that that was the motive. I think in a probably horrible after thought, after he did the horrific act, he looked down and saw a pair of earrings and thought he'd take them, but I can't imagine that that was the motive. And I don't know.
KING: What do you think it was?
LEVIN: I don't know. He was having a bad night.
KING: Was he drunk?
LEVIN: He had been drinking a lot at the bar. He was one of the few kids that were there that night who was not going to college, wasn't been accepted in college. That night his girlfriend broke up with him in front of everybody at the bar.
KING: Do you think he was trying to rape her?
LEVIN: No. I think he just had a lot of anger, and she might have said something that just set him off...
KING: Wrong place, wrong time. LEVIN: Wrong girl, wrong place, wrong time.
KING: We'll be back with Ellen Levin. We'll be including your phone calls. Later, I'll tell you about my conversation with Robert Blake. Tomorrow night, Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota. Diane Sawyer on Wednesday. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAMBERS: And she freaked out and she just, she like got up and knelt in front of me and she just scratched my face, and I have these marks I didn't even notice them until this morning. And I got all upset and I stood up, and I was saying, I'm going to go, I'm going to go, this is crazy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She still remained sitting?
CHAMBERS: She was kneeling. And she said, oh, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, sit down, sit down. And I said, you know, I'll sit and talk with you, but I don't want you to sit next to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first time since the trial began, Jennifer Levin's mother held a news conference. She praised the prosecutor, but blasted the system that she said excluded important evidence as she watched in horror. She mostly, however, remembered her daughter fondly, while choking back tears.
LEVIN: Jennifer was a great kid. She was responsible, loyal, loving and kind. She had a gift of making people smile just by walking in the room. She was filled with life, and her zest and brightness touched everyone she knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The famous district attorney Robert Morganthal (ph) said he would not have accepted the plea bargain if the family, your family, strongly objected.
LEVIN: Yes, that's true.
KING: So you agreed to get him to go jail, right?
LEVIN: Yeah. We had to get him in jail. I mean, he had been walking the streets of Manhattan for two years out on bail, and he'd come down to the neighborhood, to Soho, he'd gone into restaurants, he's upset patrons by being there. I mean, you know, he's very arrogant and cocky and was not something we wanted to see happen for another two years until a trial.
KING: This was made into a TV movie. Lara Flynn Boyle played Jennifer. William Baldwin played Chambers. Did you watch that?
KING: Did not?
LEVIN: No. I lived it; I don't have to watch it.
KING: Our mutual friend Mr. Dunne hates the person who killed his daughter. You hate Mr. Chambers?
LEVIN: Yes. Sure. I can't say that I'm indifferent about my feelings toward him. He took my daughter's life, and I hate him for that.
KING: His quote was "time doesn't heal." Didn't heal you?
LEVIN: Does not heal.
KING: OK. You're a big supporter of victims' rights.
LEVIN: Yes, I am.
KING: You've gotten to be friends with the Levys.
LEVIN: Yes. We've talked. I haven't met them yet. I kind of thought we would meet while I'm here in California, but we couldn't arrange it. But yes, I've been -- I reached out to a lot of people. I reached out to the Levys...
KING: What do you fear when he gets out? He's going to get out.
LEVIN: He's coming out. Let me tell you, he had a terrible prison record. He lost all his good time. You know, you automatically get good time.
KING: Usually, 15 years, you serve 10, 12. He served the full.
LEVIN: He served the full because he has, like, over 22 infractions against him. Drugs. He actually, I think, assaulted a guard. But you can't keep a person in prison any longer than their full sentence -- unless...
KING: They commit a crime.
LEVIN: And the crime would have to be that he murdered somebody. I don't think that's going to happen.
KING: so what do you think is going to happen now?
LEVIN: Well, I hear he's coming back to New York City.
KING: His mother living?
LEVIN: I believe she is. I don't know if she's still in the city, but she's alive. I'm sure she's thrilled that he's coming home. He's coming back to New York City and... KING: Why do you fear he'd do this to someone else?
LEVIN: Well, you know, he hasn't had a great track record as far as behaving himself in prison. If he can't behave himself in prison, what is going to happen on the street?
KING: You know he's a bad guy.
LEVIN: He's a bad guy, yeah.
KING: If -- this is hypothetic -- if he called you, said he'd like to see you...
LEVIN: No way. I have no desire to see him.
KING: Let's take some calls. Seattle, Washington, hello.
CALLER: Hi. You've already asked one of the questions I had, and Ms. Levin, I'm so sorry for your loss, and she was a beautiful girl.
LEVIN: Thank you.
CALLER: Can you tell me a little bit about what she wanted in her life? What kind of future did she have for herself?
LEVIN: Jennifer was very creative with clothing. From the time she was a little girl, she would put on costumes and waltz around with big hats and my shoes and lots of jewelry, and many times without even a blouse on, but this was her look. And of course, she was only 5 or 6. So she had this real love of fashion, and she was away ahead of her time with her styles. And her dream was to be a designer, and I think she would have been a wonderful designer. There is a picture of her in one of her outfits that she put together.
KING: Designed that hat?
LEVIN: Yes, well, she put it together to wear for the picture.
KING: Elmira, New York, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry. I have a question for Ms. Levin.
CALLER: How do you feel about criminals becoming celebrities?
LEVIN: Not great. You know. One of the things that I've said before and I believe that this media inspection that happens around trials, murder trials, I mean, it doesn't -- it's not good for either the criminal or the victims. It just -- it makes the victims or their families miserable and uncomfortable, and it makes a celebrity out of the criminal.
KING: What do you make of all that's happening this summer? Boy, it must bring things back to you. LEVIN: What, the anniversary?
KING: The kids, the deaths.
LEVIN: Oh, oh, it's horrible. It's horrible. But you know what I wonder, I mean, I really wonder if this doesn't happen all the time and we're just hearing about these cases because suddenly it's in the news. Because you know, I've been working with victims for a long time. I know there has been so many abduction, so many murders.
KING: Well, the 24-hour news channels, more tabloid papers.
LEVIN: Exactly. Not that -- I mean, it's horrendous and my sympathies go out to the families of the two young girls whose remains were found.
LEVIN: Yeah. Terrible. And then, but you know, I just also heard about the father who was in jail, death row, so...
KING: Do you ever get over the loss of a child?
LEVIN: Never. Never.
KING: Oakland, California, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry. I wanted to ask Ms. Levin a question. They said from real horrible things about your daughter in -- on TV and the newspapers and in the movie. And I was wondering, did you sue these people? And if you didn't, I wish you had, because they have to learn a lesson that you can't make false statements. Thank you.
LEVIN: Well, the first thing we thought of, of course, is to sue because it was slanderous, but we found out something very upsetting, and that is that when a victim is deceased, and things are said about the victim, no matter what they are or how bad they are or how slanderous they are, you cannot sue, because they have no rights after they're deceased. And it's also very difficult to sue the press.
KING: You can slander a dead person?
LEVIN: You can slander a dead person.
KING: How did you emotionally hold up to read and hear and see the things they were saying? Your daughter is not only dead, not only killed by someone else's hand, but now you're reading that she's a bad girl.
LEVIN: It was horrible. I felt like I was getting hit over the head over and over again. We all suffered. My whole family were in disbelief over what had happened. We were in shock to lose our daughter in such a horrendous way, and then to see what was -- it seemed like some kind of a vicious snowball that was like going downhill out of control. This constant, you know, attack on her reputation. I mean, every day there was a headline that was, like, very negative to Jennifer.
KING: Did she have brothers and sisters?
LEVIN: Jennifer has a sister.
KING: How old?
LEVIN: She's not going to want me to tell you this, but she's going to be 38.
KING: What does she do?
LEVIN: She is an artist, of sorts.
KING: How did she handle it? She was her older sister, right?
KING: How did she handle all of this at the time?
LEVIN: You know, this is a whole different story for siblings, we've come to realize this. And my daughter is a perfect example. Everyone said to Danielle (ph), be strong for your parents. They need you now, be strong for them. And years later, what she really needed at the time was -- we're here to help you, you know, we know how you're suffering. I mean, she put on this facade for us, because everyone told her to, but in the meanwhile, her heart was broken, and it took her many years to face the loss of her sister.
KING: Lost her baby sister.
KING: We'll be back with more of Ellen Levin, and we'll be including your phone calls as well, as we have already.
And at the close of the show I'll be telling you what Robert Blake told me last Saturday at prison.
This LARRY KING LIVE, we'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVEN LEVIN, JENNIFER LEVIN'S FATHER: He didn't have anything going for him. He had no job, he had no future.
It was just the opposite of Jennifer. Jennifer was a good kid. She was responsible. She was excited about going away to college. She had a bright future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Although the jury in the so- called Preppie Murder trial in New York was in its ninth day of deliberations Friday, unable to reach a verdict, the trial came to an abrupt end when Robert Chambers agreed to a plea bargain.
Chambers, who was charged with second-degree murder, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, a lesser, but still very serious charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our guest is Jennifer Levin. Robert Chambers was invited to appear or make a statement for this program, and declined.
We're going to back to your phone calls.
I want to ask you, though, you live close to the World Trade Center?
LEVIN: Yes, seven blocks, in Tribeca...
KING: Where were you that morning?
LEVIN: I was there. I was there, and I watched everything happen. It was horrifying.
KING: And you looked out the window or you ran down the street?
LEVIN: Well, my window faced north, and the buildings were south of me. But I heard the explosion, and it sounded like the explosion in 1993, because I heard that one too, with the bomb.
And I said, oh my God, something horrible happened. And I looked over my terrace, and I see everyone in the street like this -- I mean literally.
And I ran down in my nightgown and I watched and saw this plane hanging out of the building. And we all stood in shock. The building next to ours was evacuated immediately because it's a very high-tech travelers' insurance business. So there were 3,000, 4,000 people on the street. Some people were running north. And we stood there and watched the second plane hit. I watched people running...
KING: Watched it?
LEVIN: Watched it.
KING: Not on television -- watched it?
KING: Watched it on the street, on the corner. It's seven blocks from me; people running by with glass in their eye, bleeding, crying screaming, running for north to get away from it.
And then the buildings collapsed. And I thought -- I'll tell you what happened, and I think a lot of people who have had tragedies in their life can relate -- I had the same feeling, a lot of the same feelings as when I lost Jennifer. I felt helpless, I felt vulnerable, I felt shock. And I thought I was going to die.
When the buildings collapsed, this huge hydrogen bomb of smoke came down the street like a tunnel. And we all ran for cover. I mean, you know, we didn't know what was happening.
KING: Have you felt similar to the Jennifer feelings...
LEVIN: A lot of feelings.
KING: ... vulnerable; the victim of evil?
LEVIN: Yes, a lot of the feelings were the same.
KING: Toronto, hello.
CALLER: Hi, yes. I just wanted to extend my sympathy to you and your family.
LEVIN: Thank you.
CALLER: And my question is, can you take any legal measures to prevent him from re-offending?
KING: Re-offending in what way do you mean, ma'am?
CALLER: Just putting the word out in the community that there's potential for him to repeat crime based on lack of rehabilitation that he's had in jail?
KING: Well, he's pretty well known.
LEVIN: He is. He's very well known. And also there was no sex involved with this crime, much to everyone's surprise...
KING: So he can't be listed as...
LEVIN: So he can't be listed as a sex offender which would be, you know, a legal thing to do if that was the case.
His face is very well known in New York City and, you know, I just assume that, with more programs like this, maybe everyone will realize that he'll be out and they should be...
KING: Maybe you ought to move away?
LEVIN: Me or him?
KING: Maybe he ought to move.
LEVIN: If he was smart he would. I mean, would you go back to the city after that?
KING: It's a big city, though; do you fear running into him? Even though it's a big city. LEVIN: Yes, I would hate to run into him. I would not like that at all.
KING: Plantation, Florida, hello.
CALLER: Hi, yes, I'm wondering, has he ever tried to contact her?
CALLER: Because you had said earlier that you don't want to talk to him at all.
LEVIN: He's never tried.
CALLER: He's never written a letter?
LEVIN: No, nothing. Nothing.
CALLER: All right, thank you.
LEVIN: You're welcome.
KING: Thank you.
To Seneca, New York, hello -- Seneca, South Carolina, I'm sorry.
CALLER: Yes, I was first wanting to say I remember the case so well, and I'm sorry for the death of your child. But I also, to extenuate on one of his questions, what would you do if you, by chance, did run into him on street? What would your reaction be?
LEVIN: I don't know. It's a good question.
You know, I don't think I would know that until it happens. I have a lot of emotions, obviously deep emotions about this. I have anger, I have sadness.
I don't know. I couldn't tell you unless it happened. And I hope it doesn't happen, to be honest with you.
KING: Amherst, New Hampshire, hello.
CALLER: Yes, I had a question for Ellen.
CALLER: I was wondering if she took any action against the bar that served alcohol to her underage daughter that night, and perhaps put her child in the situation where she might be victimized by a person like Robert...
LEVIN: Yes we did, actually. We did action and we did settle with the bar.
KING: The bar did -- had to pay money for serving Jennifer without asking...
LEVIN: Well, not Jennifer, serving Robert Chambers in excessiveness.
KING: Ah, because she was underage, right?
LEVIN: No, they were both 18.
KING: 18 is the drinking...
KING: ... and some states are 21.
So the suit was for serving him too much liquor?
LEVIN: Yes. He was supposedly drinking water glasses filled with tequila or some kind of beverage.
KING: Did investigators learn whether he was an alcoholic, whether that was an aberration?
LEVIN: Well, he had a lot of drug problems. He had just come back from -- was it Hazelton (ph)? Is that a drug -- he had just came back that summer from treatment. And he's had a lot of problems with drug and, I would imagine, any abuse, you know.
KING: What were your feelings toward -- was his father in court too?
LEVIN: A few times. Mainly we saw his mother.
KING: What were your feelings when you looked at her? I mean...
LEVIN: I don't know. You know, I mean, being in the courtroom...
KING: You can't hate her.
LEVIN: No, I didn't hate her. And, you know -- and I feel sorry for her. I mean listen, he caused grief for a lot of people, not just my family but his family, too.
But you know, there was so much emotion in that courtroom, Larry, that she became inconsequential. I mean, my focus was on what was going on, what they were presenting, how they were, you know, still assuming or trying to make it sound like Jennifer asked to be murder. There was an intense courtroom, intense.
KING: You're glad you went, though?
LEVIN: Yes, and I would do it again. God forbid if I ever had to.
KING: What were those nine days like while the jury was out?
LEVIN: It was pretty tortuous. I mean, we -- I think everyone had assumed that they would reach a verdict pretty quickly and assumed the verdict would be guilty. And we...
KING: Of murder?
LEVIN: Yes. You know, we understand that the longer a jury is out, the more you have to be concerned about what the verdict is going to be.
LEVIN: And so by the ninth day we were all very worried. And with good reason, obviously.
KING: That prosecutor has now become a famous novelist, right?
LEVIN: Linda Fairstein, yes.
KING: Linda Fairstein writes crime books.
LEVIN: We still keep in touch. She's a good writer, and a good prosecutor, but we still keep in touch. She's a great lady.
KING: Did you talk to the jurors?
KING: Did the prosecutor talk to the jurors?
LEVIN: Yes, she did. There were quite a few jurors who were interviewed.
KING: Did you learn anything from that?
LEVIN: Not really. There were several jurors that were very adamant that he should have been found guilty of murder, and there was one juror who, I believe, and I was told that seemed to have a secret crush on him, and that she was perhaps the one holdout.
KING: For not guilty?
KING: We'll be back with more moments with Ellen Levin and more of your phone calls, and I'll tell you about the conversation with Robert Blake. Tomorrow night, Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota will be our special guest. By the way, Friday night, Jerry Lewis will be here. You haven't seen him in a long time. Jerry's making an exclusive appearance on this program in advance of the muscular dystrophy telethon, in which I'll be happy to appear. Jerry Lewis will be here on Friday night, live with your phone calls. We'll be right back. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chambers, you pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree, under indictment #639419-86, manslaughter in the first degree was a lesser included charge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Binghamton, New York, for Ellen Levin, hello.
CALLER: Hi. My question is, in this kind of case, would you be for a death penalty, or how do you feel about the death penalty if he was convicted of murder?
KING: Yeah. OK.
KING: What are your thoughts?
LEVIN: I have mixed feelings about the death penalty. I'm not particularly strong on it. However, I think it does accomplish one thing, and that is that that person that killed will never kill again.
That's really, basically, how I feel about it.
KING: The thing it doesn't do, though, is you can't redress the grievance if you kill an innocent person, and we've had over 100 released already.
LEVIN: I know, but there are also so many more guilty people walking out there that got away with murder.
KING: But you have mixed feelings about it?
LEVIN: I have mixed feelings.
KING: Would you have been happy if Chambers were executed in New York state? Would that have made you feel better?
LEVIN: No, like I said at the beginning of the show, you know, even if there was that kind of end to it, it wouldn't have changed my feelings of sadness and loss.
KING: San Antonio, hello.
CALLER: Yes. Good evening, Ellen.
KING: Hi. LEVIN: Hi.
CALLER: What is your source of strength today?
LEVIN: Well, to -- believe it or not, my source of strength when I did all my advocacy work, which I worked for 10 years passing victims' rights bills, was Jennifer. I felt that her spirit was coming through me. She was spirited. She would have been angry as hell over what happened. And I really felt that that drove me to do what I had to do, and I wound up helping to pass 13 pieces of legislation.
I still feel Jennifer with me. Not in that driving force any more, but I do have a daughter, another daughter and three grand daughters. And you know, that makes me happy.
KING: You're daughter person, huh?
LEVIN: We only know how to make girls in my family. That's it.
KING: That case was historic, right? "A Current Affair" started with that case, right?
LEVIN: Yes, they did. Their timing was perfect. The show opened up with this case, because it was a couple of weeks after.
KING: New York City, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Ms. Levin. I'm so sorry for your loss. I wanted to know if Robert Chambers is legally allowed to make any money off of this, via a book or a movie deal?
LEVIN: That's a good question. We have a law that's called the Son of Sam law in New York, and that prohibits any criminal from profiting from their crime.
KING: Even after they've served their time?
LEVIN: Even after they serve their time. So if he was thinking of writing a book or doing interviews and/or articles or a movie or whatever, we would be right on his case with that, because that is against the law.
KING: Did anyone get any proceeds from the TV movie?
KING: Because it was a public story?
LEVIN: Well, you know, they had asked us, me especially, to get involved with the movie, to be a part of it. They even said I could write a scene with me and Jennifer in it, because I do write. And my feeling was, I was so shell-shocked from the way Jennifer was treated that I asked them one question, I said, "do I have creative control in the end?" And they said, "I'm sorry, Ms. Levin. I said, "I can't do it then." KING: Are you a believer in God?
LEVIN: I believe in God. I believe in a higher spirit than ourselves.
KING: But not organized religion?
LEVIN: No. Well -- no.
KING: Did that have any source of strength for you? That belief?
LEVIN: I was angry at God. Oh, boy. I was really mad. I -- you know, I couldn't figure out why he or that power would take a beautiful young girl. And I live in a city, you know New York, where there are people laying on the streets, killing themselves with alcohol and drugs, not wanting to live, and I had a very long love/hate relationship with him.
KING: Did that evolve and change?
LEVIN: Yeah, it has. I mean, you know, I still question. But I've learned to live with it.
KING: 9/11 force you to question more?
LEVIN: 9/11 really messed me up, I have to tell you. I was -- because of -- it created so many of the same feelings in me. I was a wreck. I had to -- I left town for about six weeks. And -- well, our building wasn't evacuated, but they couldn't guarantee the safety of it, the structure. I'm on the 29th floor, I'm not staying there unless you tell me I'm safe. So I left the city. And then went back into therapy, because I was having post-traumatic stress disorder again.
KING: How important was therapy?
LEVIN: Very important. Anyone going through something like this really needs to find a good -- a therapist that specializes in crisis intervention and post-traumatic stress disorder.
KING: And loss.
LEVIN: And loss, yeah.
KING: Were friends important?
LEVIN: Yes, friends were important.
KING: Was the public good to you, as good as they've been to you tonight?
LEVIN: Yeah, you know, what was nice, the few nice things that were happening around us, was that there was a general outage of the blame the victim tactics in New York City. And this case was so blatantly an example of that. And we had people forming groups called Justice for Jennifer, and they had placards and buttons made with Jennifer's pictures on it. I think that's the first time that was ever done. I know a lot of people are doing that now. And they were picketing outside the courthouse, picketing Jack Lipman (ph)'s office. The Guardian Angels got involved. They came to the courtroom every day. They were wonderful, wonderful supporters.
KING: You hope some good comes from bad, right? You got laws passed.
LEVIN: Yes, I got laws passed. I knew that -- you know, I had to do something about the justice system, because I saw that there was no rights for victims in New York, no rights at all.
KING: Jennifer, you're an extraordinary lady.
LEVIN: Jennifer was, too.
KING: Jennifer. I got Jennifer on my mind.
LEVIN: This is her day. I know. This is her day.
KING: Thank you, Ellen.
LEVIN: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Ellen Levin. Jennifer is dead 16 years today. Robert Chambers will be released in February. I'll be back and tell you about my visit with Robert Blake right after this.
KING: Saturday morning, I went to L.A. County jail and met with Robert Blake, who is awaiting decisions of whether he'll get bail and he's waiting for dates of possible trial, and the like. It's a tough place, the L.A. County Jail. Hordes of people waiting to visit loved ones.
You sit in a cubicle just like Mr. Blake looks there. He gets on a phone, I get on a phone, and you're allowed 30 minutes. And here are some of the things he had to say.
He said: "There are worse places to be in than jail. I've been on worse locations and in worse dressing rooms." He said nobody has been luckier than him. He said: "I'm the luckiest guy I know. From where I came from to where I am, God is looking over me." "So what, he said, "so I'm in here. My abiding faith in God never waivers. I've had sexual abuse as a kid, I've had physical abuse. I never asked questions as to why. I'll tell you people who have to ask about why, people of 9/11."
"Everything in my life is about my daughter Rosie. She's finally coming to see me next week." I'm quoting Robert Blake. "We wanted to wait until everything was settled with custody. I haven't seen her since I've been in here, and I'm really excited. I swear to God, this cement wilderness is just a passing phase." About his marriage -- "it was not a terrible marriage. I didn't know Bonnie at all. I didn't want to lose Rosie, so I married her and then hoped we would find out about each other. For all I know, she was still in love with Christian Brando. Bonnie had a daughter, Holly, who I liked very much and who I wanted to have come live with us. I had no reason to harm her. My lawyer told me I could have separated and gotten custody of Rosie for myself, but I didn't want to put the child through that. Everything I did was with Rosie in mind."
"The media has really done a job on me. I don't have to defend myself to anybody. My former lawyer, Barry Levin (ph), who died, was for 20 years a homicide cop, and he told me one week after Bonnie died that they were going to try me for this crime, that they were after me because I'm me. The media did no research at all. I'm not supposed to tell you this, but I'm going to anyway. Everyone asks, how come I parked two blocks from the restaurant? Well, I only parked four houses from the restaurant. Where did the two blocks story come from? I read some reports wondering why I didn't valet park. That restaurant does not have valet parking."
I don't know how to judge my lawyer, Harland Braun. I've never had a defense attorney before. Except for two peace marches that I participated in, I've never been on the opposite side of the law. I'm not going to respond to crap about putting up money for Earl Caldwell. Even though the prosecution said that he had a truck full of surprise, I can't comment on that, but I will tell you this: I read in a Jack London book once, someone is asked to testify against someone else on the promise of freedom. The man refused to testify, because he knows the person he's been asked to testify against is innocent. So he says, I can walk out of here with my freedom, but I would be leaving behind my soul."
Said he has total faith in Earl Caldwell. He can't comment about the stuntman allegedly hired to try to kill Bonnie. He said he doesn't know the truth about Bonnie at all. He said, "she could have been married six times, or 60. Her stories changed every day."
He said: "I know enough to know that when somebody kills somebody, the first thing they do is get rid of their clothes, take a shower. Well, I went right to the police station, didn't get home until the next morning, flopped into bed and was wearing the same clothes when they came to interview me the following morning."
"I don't know how the Supreme Court is going to rule on whether I get bail, but I know they're going to ask the prosecution for evidence, and it beats me what they're going to offer. I've never been indicted. I've asked for a grand jury, and that was that denied."
"I will tell you this: I will act again. Rosie will be on a sound stage watching me. I'm in here, and I adopt my infantry mode. My glass is three-quarters full."
Robert Blake in prison, Sunday morning -- Saturday morning in a Los Angeles County jail. Back to tell you about tomorrow night right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Baseball people, settle, settle! A little comment there.
Tomorrow night, Governor Jesse Ventura of Minnesota will have more to say on that.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com