Friday, February 14, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Remember Robert Chambers?

On August 26th, 1986, a Upper East Side college boy named Robert Chambers was sentenced for the murder of Jennifer Levin, also a well-to-do student attending a private New York School. You may recall the headlines screaming "Preppie Killer Case." Chambers' then (and still) outrageous defense: that he killed Levin accidentally while they were engaged in consensual "rough sex." Perhaps we were all more easily shocked by such allegations back then? Viewers across the country were stunned by video images of the handsome, clean-cut looking Chambers. How could such a 'nice boy' be a murderer? Surely not.

Today, Chambers was released from prison. Plenty of evidence points to him being a cold-hearted murderer, who showed depraved indifference and no regrets for the crime:
From CNN.com: "Chambers, now 36, accumulated violations behind bars, including heroin possession, assaulting a guard and weapon possession. His bids for parole were rejected five times, and he spent about a third of his time in solitary confinement. Chambers admitted strangling Levin after they met in a bar on the Upper East Side. Her battered, partially naked body was found by a bicyclist under a tree behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the pair went after leaving the bar.

At a 1995 parole hearing, Chambers expressed no remorse about the crime. Chambers was about a month short of his 20th birthday when he was charged with murdering Levin. Jurors were in their ninth day of deliberations when Chambers opted to take a deal, pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in return for a 15-year jail term.

Levin's family never believed Chambers was sorry. Shortly after his sentencing, a videotape surfaced showing Chambers snapping the head off a small doll. "Oops, I think I killed it," Chambers cracked, the doll's head in his hand."
I'm glad he served his full 15 years, and that his privileged socioeconomic status didn't fully protect him from justice. But in a case of murder, how can justice ever truly be served, when no legal remedy can ever return a life? Not even the death penalty can give true satisfaction in that regard; the taking of a life for a life is essentially a symbolic anodyne.

Robert Chambers' crime, as gruesome as it was, is probably no worse than most murders the NYPD see. But even after 15 years, my gut tells me a person like this bears close and careful watching; I don't think prison ever made anyone a better person. He is now 36 years old, looking fit and trim (bread, water, and cable TV have served him well) - and he isn't too old to get hired or tell his story to the tabloids or bestseller press. In the press shots of his release, he looks like any other whitebread urban businessman you'd pass on the street. "Memoirs of a Preppie Killer" - I can see the covers now.

Both of these people are - or would have been - my age. He will probably move to someplace comfortable and anonymous, and his still handsome (but relatively un-memorable) face probably won't get too many shocked stares or whispers of, "Look! That's the Preppie Killer!"

The painful part is that Chambers still has most of his life ahead of him, to live as he chooses. For the cost of one ill-spent night, Jennifer Levin never got to live hers.