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Longtime Probe Gets a Fresh Focus, Police Chief says

The discovery of Chandra Levy's skeletal remains will reinvigorate a police and grand jury investigation that had floundered for lack of physical evidence, law enforcement authorities and legal observers said yesterday.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, while cautioning that "it remains to be seen" how much investigators will learn from the evidence found in Rock Creek Park, said an FBI lab analysis of the clothing near Levy's remains may turn up blood, semen or hair that could prove helpful in solving the case. Another law enforcement source said the bones themselves could yield important clues.

Although police and FBI agents have conducted more than 1,000 interviews since the 24-year-old former federal intern from California disappeared almost 13 months ago, the certainty that Levy is dead will sharpen their focus and prompt them to ask different questions, Ramsey said.

"It shifts the focus, absolutely," Ramsey said. "Now you know you have a death investigation. It moves down a different path."

David Schertler, a private attorney in Washington and former federal prosecutor, was more skeptical about whether the forensic evidence would provide clues as to how Levy died.

"It's very unlikely when it's exposed to the elements like that," he said. "The possibility of finding blood or somebody's body fluids on clothing, in my view, would be extremely unlikely. It's obviously something that should be tested." Schertler said pathologists studying the bones might be able to determine how Levy died -- whether she was stabbed, shot or beaten, for example.

Lacking evidence of Levy's death, police had continued to classify her disappearance as a missing persons case even though they had strongly suspected foul play. Last night, Ramsey stopped short of calling the death a homicide, saying he is awaiting the D.C. medical examiner's report. But he said the case would be moved to the department's violent crime squad.

Investigators no longer will be sidetracked by theories that Levy decided on her own to run off or is being held captive somewhere, Ramsey and other officials said.

Ramsey declined to say whether police would devote additional manpower to the case, saying only that resources would be provided as needed.

A D.C. Superior Court grand jury is continuing to investigate Levy's disappearance and allegations of obstruction of justice involving U.S. Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.). The grand jury has been looking into several allegations, including whether Condit tried to stop a flight attendant from telling investigators about an affair she had with him.

Law enforcement sources said the discovery of Levy's remains could prompt the grand jury to be more aggressive in subpoenaing people to testify.

Investigators said Condit admitted to them last summer that he had an affair with Levy before her disappearance. He was interviewed by police four times and went before a grand jury last month.

Law enforcement officials said throughout their probe that there was no evidence Condit was involved in Levy's disappearance. They refused to call him a suspect but also declined to clear his name.

Levy vanished May 1, 2001, shortly before she planned to move back to California. The probe into her disappearance began slowly and quietly. But in a short time, it developed into a coast-to-coast investigation, and reports of Condit's relationship with Levy fanned the news media's attention.

D.C. police took the lead in the investigation, with assistance from FBI agents in the District and California and from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department in Modesto, Calif. In July, 50 D.C. police recruits spent 2 1/2 weeks searching wooded areas of the District -- including much of Rock Creek Park.

Schertler cautioned yesterday that finding Levy's remains in the park "doesn't necessarily tell you this was the scene of the crime."

"It could have been a situation where the crime happened in an apartment, house or car," he said, "and this was where the perpetrator secreted the body so it wouldn't easily be found."

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