"Preppy Murderer" Gets 19 Years for Non Violent Drug Offense

Robert Chambers, convicted of the infamous New York "Preppy Murder" of Jennifer Levin, was released from prison in 2003 after serving his full 15 year sentence.

In 1986, Robert Chambers, a young and handsome guy who had dropped out of college, met Jennifer Levin, a student at an elite private high school in Manhattan, at a trendy bar on the Upper East Side. They then went to Central Park, had sex, and she ended up strangled to death. Chambers said it was an accident, they had been having consensual rough sex.

In 2005, Chambers made the news again when he was busted for cocaine residue on a straw and an empty tin foil packet found during a traffic stop.

Now, they are sending Chambers to jail for 19 years for a small time drug deal. As Anthony Papas argues, this is not a sentence for drugs, it's a second sentence for the Jennifer Levin murder. [More...]

As a writer in the New York Post opined, this is a cheap publicity stunt. Chambers is no Pablo Escobar, he's an addict that sold small quantities to support his habit.

Chambers now joins thousands of other poor, low-level addicts - mainly black and Latinos - serving impossibly long prison terms for minor drug infractions.

Let's be honest. Robert Chambers isn't going to prison for his drug offenses. Rather, he's going to prison for the death of Jennifer Levin - again

Robert Chambers is but another casualty of the wrong-headed war on drugs. This is an outrage.

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    It sickens me (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by flyerhawk on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 10:23:08 AM EST
    that this country continues to engage in the immoral and generally evil War on Some Drugs.  

    It has created so many problems for this country and yet it isn't even a topic of discussion.

    The war on drugs is over. (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by stxabuela on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 10:25:21 AM EST
    We lost.  If we'd just have declared war on addiction, things might have turned out differently.  

    Sign of the apocolypse.... (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 10:46:30 AM EST
    The fact that his sentence over a lil' colombian bam-bam exceeds his sentence for strangling a human being to death just about says it all, doesn't it?

    Priorities so far out of whack it ain't even funny.

    Shows snorting a line of coke (5.00 / 5) (#5)
    by samtaylor2 on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 10:48:11 AM EST
    Is worse then killing a women.  I am glad we got that sorted out.

    Say what?..... (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 11:38:46 AM EST
    Now we all know people who do coke or other hard drugs (he also had a history of doing heroin) are capable of many things. Robbery, theft, even violent crimes.

    Alcohol users, caffeine users, and even 100% straight edge people are also "capable of many things"...including robbery, theft, even violent crimes.

    What's your point exactly?  

    If caffeine were criminalized.... (5.00 / 4) (#13)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 01:02:15 PM EST
    and cost 100 bucks for a gram of beans...then hell freakin' yeah people would commit crimes to get it.

    Yes.... (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 02:13:00 PM EST
    that is exactly what I'm saying....let freedom ring and individual liberty reign.

    It doesn't bother you that our society views dealing cocaine as a more heinous crime than strangling a human being to death?  Judging by the two sentences handed down to this man, that appears to be the case.  

    Personally, I only view one as a criminal act...the murder.  The selling of cocaine is providing a service to make a living...same as Coors, Philip Morris, or Folgers.


    You should also look at the facts (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by CST on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 02:40:29 PM EST
    Legalizing drugs does NOT mean more people on the streets doing drugs.

    It usually means less.  It also means that the people who choose to use such drugs are less likely to have to steal, or be involved in violent crime.

    No one is defending this guy.  We are saying the law is outrageous.  The fact that he went away longer for cocaine than for murder is the issue.


    On second thought.... (5.00 / 3) (#25)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 03:02:12 PM EST
    you're 100% right....I've been waiting for ten years for heroin to be legalized so I can try it and become a junkie and I'm tired of waiting...so I'm advocating for legalization.  

    There's a guy in the neighborhood I can buy it from but I'm gonna wait till it is legal...I wouldn't wanna do anything illegal:)  

    In the meantime I'll stick to vodka and cigarettes:)

    I've been dying to drive 75 mph and can't wait till they raise the speed limit:)


    I agree. (none / 0) (#22)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 02:48:28 PM EST
    He should have gone away much longer than he did for the murder.

    And not at all.... (none / 0) (#24)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 02:58:31 PM EST
    for the blow.

    I'm not quite there yet, my friend. (none / 0) (#26)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 03:07:14 PM EST
    Maybe after a few more years on TL. :-)

    I'll wear you down yet.... (none / 0) (#27)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 03:12:58 PM EST
    my man:)

    This broken record ain't gonna stop skippin' anytime soon.


    You are on a roll Kdog (none / 0) (#36)
    by Molly Bloom on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 09:27:55 PM EST
    Love your spirit.

    I'm on the street... (none / 0) (#20)
    by kdog on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 02:36:10 PM EST
    buzzed all the time, so yeah...I don't understand.  I don't rob, I don't steal, I don't murder.

    I'm not defending Chambers, I'm defending the inalienable right for a human being to make a living selling cocaine/heroin/alcohol to willing customers...aka liberty.

    How long have heroin and cocaine been illegal?  I ask because people are still "buzzed on the street", only now there are scores buzzed in prison as well the street, at the expense of our wallets and our liberty.  Makes no sense to me...maybe its that "buzz":)


    It's obscene (none / 0) (#3)
    by 1980Ford on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 10:43:17 AM EST
    And says more about our drug laws and trial by media (OJ problem?) than this case in particular. It says a great deal about our lack of trust in the jury system and the fabric of our Constitution.

    The public must think the Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper for the government to think so little of the jury process.

    Actually if you read the linked NY Post article... (none / 0) (#7)
    by ks on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 11:13:40 AM EST
    It lays it out pretty well and does a good job of pointing out how absurd and arbitrary the situation is in this case.

    The NY Post link was to an opinion columnist (none / 0) (#14)
    by jccamp on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 01:29:24 PM EST
    who is a full-time anti-drug law activist. As such, it was full of opinion, all of it anti-drug law and anti-police. Did I mention that the columnist has been arrested several times by the NYPD?

    Here's a link to a news article on the same arrest: here

    Note in the news article:
    "Investigators had seen heavy drug traffic at the apartment in recent months, and undercover cops bought a quarter kilo of coke - a little more than a half pound - with a street value, of $20,000, they said."

    "The couple is accused of making a total of eight sales to cops posing as small-time drug dealers."

    Or how about:
    "A fiftysomething tenant in Chambers' building said "terrible-looking junkies, obviously his customers, were coming in and out of here all the time.""

    Wait. Maybe this comment from a prosecutor:
    ""He's had the opportunity in prison to detox and take college courses, to straighten out his life," she said, "but that clearly is of no interest to him. He's learned nothing in the last 20 years."

    You missed this comment from another resident in the same building:
    "where tenants, apparently aware of the drug sales, told them, "I hope you're here for the 17th floor."

    Chambers has at least two prior felony convictions, one for murdering a young girl. As another poster noted, Chambers was filmed, before his murder trial, joking about strangling his victim and then tearing the head off a doll (on the film).

    Chambers isn't getting sent to prison proclaiming his innocence. He voluntarily pled guilty, knowing his sentence in advance.

    i'd say that a reasonable person could assume Chambers is a sociopath who has proven time and again he is unable and unwilling to live within the laws of civil government.

    If you want to argue against the war on drugs, I'm good with that position. But until the laws are changed, disagreeing with a law is not the same as immunity against the sanctions as written and enforced. Plus, Chambers is hardly a sympathetic non-violent offender caught up in a substance addiction problem.


    We can only hope that this may be the beginning (none / 0) (#10)
    by JohnS on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 12:02:57 PM EST
    of the end (finally) for our 89 year old DA's career. But who knows, Morgenthau says he is running again next year and look what happened to Leslie Crocker Snyder last time around.

    Non violent? (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 12:22:40 PM EST
    It could have been worse, his 6 years for assault on a police officer could have been tacked on at the end of his 19 for dealing, but instead it will be served concurrently.

    I guess my main question is are we allowed to view someone's history when sentencing them?

    iow, in sentencing someone for drug dealing today, do we completely ignore his previous murder and drug-dealing convictions? Does his assault on police officer during the drug dealing bust give reason to ask for a longer sentence than if he had not been violent?

    Absolutely, prior convictions serve as (none / 0) (#15)
    by jccamp on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 01:37:19 PM EST
    aggravating circumstances when a judge sentences a defendant. Although different jurisdictions have slightly different mechanisms for doing this, usually there is a sliding scale of sentence ranges for a particular offense(s). Adding up prior convictions moves the range higher on the table.

    Note than only convictions count. Prior arrests that did not result in convictions mean nothing. In some places, there are other mitigating and aggravating circumstances a judge can consider, such as use of a weapon, location, did the defendant accept responsibility for his/her actions, and more.


    Imperfect justice? (none / 0) (#12)
    by Redshoes on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 12:41:46 PM EST
    Chambers is not exactly a poster boy (for much of anything let alone the rehabilitative and/or deterrent virtues of a prison sentence).  It's pretty hard to summon much sympathy for him, nonetheless, one still has to wonder when the NY Post -- not exactly a publication storming the vanguard to defend defendants -- says his sentence is crock, well, it maybe.

    The piece in the NY Post is an OP-ED (none / 0) (#16)
    by jccamp on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 01:51:39 PM EST
    by Randy Credico, a well known anti-drug law activist. Here's a story about Mr Credico. HERE

    Not exactly an unbiased observer, and certainly not a news report. it is an anti-drug law column, written from that point of view.

    So what? (none / 0) (#28)
    by ks on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 03:22:12 PM EST
    The interesting thing is that the notoriously pro DA and cop NY Post published the op-ed and the facts in it don't seem to be in dispute.  In particular, Chambers was a low level dealer primarly to feed his habit, which increased!! during his time in jail on the Levin charge, and to feed his girlfriend's habit. He was mostly a user. The police found out through an informant and then proceeded to entice him to make bigger and bigger deals just so they could eventually bust him for a felony and make a media splash based on Chambers's infamy.  It worked.  

    Chambers was so shaky and low level (no cash) that his supplier couldn't trust him with the fronted goods so he arranged to be at the buy.  The cops bust Chambers and his gal while the supplier/real drug dealer apparently vanished into thin air.  The DA sends the girlfriend off to rehab, loads up the charges and massages the case until they get a very friendly judge and, facing life, Chambers cops a plea.

    While Chambers is hardly a sympathetic character, he doesn't have to be for one to realize how shady the LE setup/actions were in this case.


    You're quoting the OP-ED piece like it's true. (none / 0) (#30)
    by jccamp on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 05:28:49 PM EST
    But maybe it's not, considering the source. The original news article - not opinion - quotes more than one resident of the same building indicating that Chambers was dealing drugs "all the time". The police made eight buys from Chambers. Who were all those other people coming and going? The building residents have rights too, including the right to expect the police to arrest drug dealers. The police didn't "entice" Chambers to do anything he wasn't already doing, according to the news story.

    You don't like the war on drugs? Neither do I. But until we elect some politicians with backbone - well, first we have to find some politicians with backbones - and dealing drugs remains illegal, then sell drugs at your own risk.  

    As for the girlfriend, she's not a multiple convicted felon with a murder past. Anytime else, people would be cheering that the authorities diverted her to rehab. Why is it suddenly wrong when her boyfriend hits his 3rd strike?

    I doubt they had to massage the case, as you put it. Chambers didn't even put up a fight. Because he did what they alleged, and he made the best deal he could. He didn't want to face a jury of his peers.

    And finally, why is the fact someone is a drug addict suddenly a defense. Who do you think commits most of the property crimes, the armed robberies? A high percentage is people with substance abuse problems who can't hold a job because of their habit. Crack is not cheap, when you get high every few hours.

    Shady LE actions? if you lived in Chambers' building, you'd be the first one to complain the cops were busy busting people for marijuana and ignoring the hard drugs.


    NY Post (none / 0) (#35)
    by diogenes on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 08:53:21 PM EST
    hey, the liberal NY Times has Michael Brooks, so why can't the NY Post have the occasional prodrug opinion columnist?

    please jccamp, do some research on chambers (none / 0) (#33)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 07:08:36 PM EST
    Credico's facts are correct. I've been following Chambers for many years. His lawyer in the murder case, Jack Litman, is a TalkLeft pal. Please re-examine your own biases or come back with specific facts to show Credico's are wrong.

    OK, I'll try to respond. (none / 0) (#37)
    by jccamp on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 09:41:59 PM EST
    Credico says that "this is a cheap publicity stunt. "

    Quoting from the NY Times:
    "After neighbors complained about a constant stream of strangers to and from the pair's door, the police mounted an undercover operation. Over the course of three months, the authorities said, officers bought 246 grams of cocaine for $9,600 from Mr. Chambers and Ms. Kovell, an amount that could fetch $20,000 on the street.

    When the police went to arrest the pair late Monday, no one answered the door, so officers used a battering ram to break it down. Once inside, the authorities said, the police found crack pipes and several grams of cocaine. Mr. Chambers struggled violently with one officer and broke the officer's wrist, the authorities said."

    Another NY Times quote:
    "Neighbors noticed problems. The News quoted Maggie Diaz, 64, a longtime resident, as saying, "People here had been talking to the police because there was a lot of in and out," while Amber Youell, 28, a next-door neighbor, said that Mr. Chambers and Ms. Kovell often fought and that he would lock her out of the apartment."

    A third NY Times quote:
    "Mr. Chambers generally acted as a middleman for friends, moving tens of thousands of dollars of drugs -- primarily cocaine, but also crack and marijuana -- through his apartment over a few months. He collected about 30 percent profit -- but he and Mr. Kovell spent much of that profit on drugs, according to The Post. The Post also reports that the East 57th Street apartment had a fetid stench and was littered with plastic bags that had once contained drugs. Police officers used a battering ram to enter the unit after no one answered the door. Mr. Chambers put up a struggle, and several officers were injured. Three had broken bones: one a hand, a second a thumb, and the third -- a police captain -- a toe."

    Quote from New York Magazine:
    "Their one-bedroom at 357 East 57th Street, apartment 5B, could sell for about $500,000 to $700,000, according to real-estate Websites we checked...it was tips and calls from 311 <vigilant neighbors> that eventually led police to Chambers' door."
    Is Credico really suggesting that the NYPD would ignore the multiple complaints from people living in half million dollar apartments about someone in the building dealing drugs?  That strains credibility.

    Quoting Credico again
    "Now, they are sending Chambers to jail for 19 years for a small time drug deal."

    No, Chamber pled guilty after being charged with eight hand-to-hand buys by officers, plus possession charges, plus the assault on the 3 police officers. That's a lot more than "a small time drug deal." His prior convictions make him a habitual offender for sentencing purposes.

    Credico again:
    "In truth, he's nothing more than a hopeless and hapless drug addict."

    See the NY Times quotes. Chambers primary source of income is selling cocaine. He's an addict who sells to other poor addicts. Why does his being an addict himself give him some kind of immunity that a non-addict dealer would not qualify for?

    "It is about Chambers being sentenced to more time now for a nonviolent drug offense than he did for a homicide."

    As an experienced trial attorney, you of all people know that lawyers don't get to chose the quality of their cases. The government took a 15 year plea from Chambers in the murder, because they considered 15 firm years and a felony conviction better than an acquittal. I'm sure they were disgusted having to accept that plea, but that's how it works when your case is weak. The sentence length in the manslaughter conviction has no bearing on the justice of a longer sentence for drug dealing. This kind of sentencing disparity happens every day in a court somewhere, and it's usually about the relative strength of the defense and prosecution cases. That's all. Declaring outrage over a drug sentence being longer than a manslaughter case is disingenuous at best coming from someone like Credico who has experience with the system.

    Credico again:
    "Why wasn't Chambers offered the same chance at recovery instead of going to prison?"

    Because he is multiple convicted felon, including a criminal homicide. Because he assaulted the officers, injuring three. Because the girlfriend has never been convicted of a crime. Because that's the way sentencing works. But Credico knew that.  He just didn't say it.

    "Chambers was selling small bags of drugs to feed his habit when the police got wind of it from an informant."

    See the quotes above and in my previous post. The neighbors complained a number of times, drawing police attention to Chambers. They probably didn't even know who lived there until after they began an investigation. I don't doubt they were thrilled when they realized who was selling the drugs. But that's not what Credico alleged.

    "After more coaxing from undercover agents, the whacked-out Chambers got his supplier to front him a few ounces of cocaine. "

    See quotes above from the Times. Chambers MO was to act as a middleman, probably because no one would trust him with any weight. The police didn't put the idea in his mind. They simply allowed him to do what he normally did. I don't recall seeing anything about an entrapment defense. That is what Credico is alleging, isn't it? If Chambers had a viable defense, why plead guilty without a trial?

    Next to last Credico quote:
    "Let's be honest. Robert Chambers isn't going to prison for his drug offenses. Rather, he's going to prison for the death of Jennifer Levin - again."

    I repeat - he's going to prison because he pled guilty to multiple counts of selling cocaine, possessing cocaine and assaulting three police officers, and because his sentence, had he gone to trial and been convicted, would have been even longer from enhancements of prior multiple felony convictions, including that big one for homicide. There's no way to unlink the present charges and the prior homicide conviction. That's the way the system works. The Chambers' sentence, given his priors, is not an anomaly.  

    One last thing. Credico has been on record as complaining the NYPD arrest too many people for marijuana. "These cops are making Mickey Mouse pot arrests - what a waste of time and money."
    "I think they should stop these meaningless <marijuana>arrests and use their time and resources to find better ways of going after real criminals."
    Now he's complaining that the NYPD is arresting a convicted killer who was selling hard drugs, after multiple civilian complaints?  

    And some statistics from 2007, the last year they seem to be available:
    in 2007, the NYPD convicted 23,489 people for felony drug charges. About 14% were given prison sentences. That other 86% received local jail time, probation, time served, etc. That's quite a few cheap publicity stunts. Or was Chambers the only cheap publicity stunt, and the other 23,488 just routine police work?

    Credico has an agenda. He is entitled to those opinions. in fact, I probably agree with much of what he thinks about drug laws. But if the laws are on the books, then people convicted under those laws really have no complaint. They knew what they were doing had penalties, yet they did it anyway. Credico writes this story starring Chambers as the victim of scheming cops and sleazy lawyers. Looking at the facts as reported elsewhere, I must have missed that part.

    Chambers is a victim of his unwillingness to follow the rules, not the NYPD or the Manhattan D A. They just did what we pay them to do, arrest and convict the guilty. They wouldn't be human if they didn't experience some glee that a killer who escaped the full consequences of his prior acts had again broken the law and put himself in jeopardy.

    But that's what career criminals do. Repeatedly break the law.


    The arguments against legalizing drugs... (none / 0) (#31)
    by Dadler on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 06:18:23 PM EST
    ...sound much like the arguments for keeping homosexual folks out of the military, when the reality is there are plenty of gay folks in uniform, just as there are plenty of users and addicts in the workforce (in addition to those on the streets, and in addition to those addicted to LEGAL drugs -- a much higher number).  All prohibition does is codify hypocrisy and create crime where there does not need to be even a fraction of it.  

    Dunno Dadler, (none / 0) (#32)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 07:03:19 PM EST
    by that argument we should stop the prohibition on murder because there are plenty of murderers on our streets and in our workforces (6035 unsolved murders, and therefor 6035 murderers on our streets from 2004 alone. Assuming an average lifespan of 70 years, that works out to over 400,000 murderers on our streets and in our workforces as we speak.).

    Oh Lord... (none / 0) (#34)
    by Dadler on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 08:25:07 PM EST
    ...I'm going to assume you are Sarcastic indeed.  If not, well, I don't want to think about if not.