So You Ruined Gary Condit For Nothing? (Update)

When Chandra Levy’s body was found, everyone knew who did it.  Dominick Dunne, purveyor of all salacious truth, told us.  The police had no doubt.  It was a made for TV murder.  The culprit was . . . wait.  Representative Gary Condit was smeared far and wide for his affair with Levy, every orifice of his personal life revealed for all to see, and universally branded a murderer who got away with it.

But today, a mere 8 years later, it turns out that the suspect is Ingmar Guandique?  But that’s no fun.  There’s no politician to smear.  The one-size fits all answer to murder investigation fails.  Our faith in justice is shaken.

Not that I was a fan of Gary Condit’s conservative flavor of Democratic politics, nor an admirer of a 53 year old man messing around with a 23 year old intern.  But he was pronounced a murder far and wide, and for all that he was, a murderer he was not.

Having enjoyed (on behalf of clients) the knee-jerk police jump to conclusion that the spouse/lover is always the prime suspect when something bad happens, the idea that cops now think that it was a random act of violence by some unconnected person is like a bad joke.  Trying to find, no less gather actual evidence, of the perpetrator of a crime is much, much harder than deciding who the bad guys is first and then trying to construct a case against him. 

Arguing that maybe, just maybe, their knee-jerk assumptions ignore the potential that something happened which they might possibly learn about if only they actually investigated the crime instead of the pre-determined criminal, is a waste of breath.  Cops know everything.  Just ask them.  They’ll tell you.

Sadly for the cops, sometimes they can’t just pin the crime on the easiest target.  Then they actually have to earn their keep, which can interfere with a well deserved nap. 

Sadly for Gary Condit, it only took the police an extra 8 years to find someone else to target.

Sadly for Dominick Dunne, he hasn’t changed a bit.

Update:  While I tend to avoid using psycho-social jargon, mostly because I fear that I would use it wrong, Mike at Crime & Federalism wields it like a scalpel and, for better or worse, it better captures the problem than my fumbling about in the darkness.

How many narratives make perfect sense?  How often do we see patterns that do not exist?  How often are we fooled by randomness?

Also, might the police have found Ms. Levy’s killer earlier if they hadn’t concluded that Gary Condit was somehow involved?  What evidence do we overlook once our minds have already been made up, once we’ve already reached a conclusion? 

I don’t pimp books on cognitive bias because I think those books are fun and games.  Some are a collection of graduate-school level articles.  It ain’t pop corn for the mind.  An ignorance of the biases that blind our thinking can have devastating effects.  People lose their jobs and go to prison based on simple thinking errors.  

Can you say confirmation bias?

In this comment below, Anne Skove “explains” it (though not endorsing the explanation), unintentionally proving the point.  “They” look for the things “they” expect to find for the reasons “they” believe are good, thereby not looking at the crime without a bias and instead solving it.  What Anne omits, and Mike recognizes, is that “they” solve the crime first and only thereafter consider the evidence.

10 comments on “So You Ruined Gary Condit For Nothing? (Update)

  1. Kevin Forrester

    We are reminded of the established power of the press to make or break kings, as Peter R. Kann begins his article on the subject with the following:

    “Thomas Jefferson, a better president than we’ve had in a very long time, penned a line back in 1787: ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I would not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’ By 1807, in his seventh year as president and after seven years of being subjected to severe press criticism, he wrote: ‘I deplore the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity and the mendacious spirit of those who write them.'”

    I wonder if Congressman Condit would have fared better or worse in the 2009 news blogosphere?

  2. Anne

    Well, what “they” do is look for things that aren’t right. May-December (or is it February-October, I always forget) with someone who has something to hide stuck out, it seems. So, yes, he was ruined for nothing, and this plot (had it existed) was ripped from primetime, but it wasn’t completely out of line for him to be on the suspect list. Boyfriends do tend to show up on such lists. What is weird to me is why it took so long to indict the current suspect — hadn’t he been in the running for quite some time?

  3. SHG

    No doubt he would have been crucified in the blogosphere.  But the blogosphere works off of the investigations of others (with notable exceptions) rather than its own information.  With Condit, people who claimed to have first hand information, a la Dunne and the police, named him the conclusive killer.  Until he wasn’t.

  4. SHG

    What they do is look for the “usual suspects.”  If that meams that “87% of the time, the killer is someone known to the victim,” they will jump to the conclusion by inductively selecting the killer and then spend their efforts proving that their guess  was right, ignoring both the 13% of the time that the killer is someone else.  Of course, the real number may be entirely different, since they are constantly looking exclusively at the usual suspects and are often capable of “proving” their case despite having the wrong person and being absolutely wrong.

    Where do you think all those wrongful convictions come from?

  5. jigmeister

    The blame falls at least as much on the media and his fellow politicians. By the way, it doesn’t seem that they have much on this new suspect. Though I suspect more than they are releasing.

  6. A Voice of Sanity

    Why should anyone be surprised by this? Look at the hundreds of wrongful convictions, convictions which are still occurring, convictions which the slack jawed public applaud. No one can look at the US legal system with any sort of pride. It reminds one of nothing less than Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle”, and, considering the number of recalls of defective products recently (peanut butter for heaven’s sake?) it appears improvements there have been slight also.

    I regard the ‘system’ as a river, wide like the Mississippi, but full of vile, toxic and foul corruption with the participants standing on the shore with the apocryphal 20 foot poles pushing it along and desperately hoping to not be contaminated by it.

    DNA shone a bright light in dark corners but, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to create a fair system where honesty was the rule, too many participants have chosen to try to paper over the cracks and cover up their own disgrace.

    I estimate that 2% at most of the US media is capable of honest, fearless investigation and reporting and of that 2% only 1% of the time do they accomplish close to that standard.

    There is more than enough shame to go round.

  7. Jim Keech

    Hmmm..color me jaded, but so far from what I read it seems they’re after the new suspect because he was convicted of attacking other women in the area. I’ll be interested to see what evidence, other than propensity, they have to tie him to the Levy murder. Maybe he’s the guy, but it feels like they’re playing the averages again.

  8. SHG

    Point well taken, though I assume like Jigmeister that we have essentially zero information on what the cops have as yet.   Whether there is any evidence against this new suspect/defendant has yet to be seen.

  9. Dennis (N. Texas)

    I feel no sympathy for Condit. He was a public uncaring, arrogant a–hole after he was caught and totally unrepentant and unsympathetic toward the Levy family as well as his district. He deserves nothing.

    (Sympathy for the Devil?) He never was tried for anything, never was sued nor spent a day in jail. What did he expect after being finally caught up in an endless string of affairs and something so big he couldn’t cover it up. Gary Condit deserves nothing and was lucky to get out of congress with a pension. If he deserves anything it is a good a— whipping for being such as sorry no account individual.

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