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Police and Levy family skeptical of polygraph test

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WASHINGTON — Washington police and the attorney for Chandra Levy's parents both expressed varying degrees of dissatisfaction with the polygraph test given to Rep. Gary A. Condit.

"This is a bit self-serving," Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance Gainer said shortly after a news conference by Condit's attorney. "I don't think it would surprise anyone that a defense attorney as sharp as Abbe Lowell would give his client a lie-detector test before offering one to the police."

Billy Martin, the lawyer for Levy's parents and the man who Monday had first asked Condit to take a lie-detector test, expressed even more skepticism.

"Since he made these private arrangements while we and the authorities were trying to reach an agreement on the questions to be asked ... the Levy family feels that Congressman Condit's actions were not in the spirit of cooperating with the Levy family," Martin said.

Announcement of the unexpected lie-detector test, along with a DNA sample taken from Condit, capped a day in which police released new sketches showing how Levy might have altered her appearance if she wanted to escape her old life. Police also continued searching abandoned buildings near Levy's and Condit's homes, and prepared to re-interview people they've talked to before.

Lowell did not divulge exactly when the lie-detector test took place Thursday, or how long it took. The full list of questions asked and the analysis are to be presented to police, Lowell said, but were not made public Friday.

Private consultant Barry Colvert, formerly the FBI's chief polygraph examiner and a veteran of numerous espionage investigations, tested Condit on three core questions, Lowell said. Colvert asked Condit whether he had anything at all to do with Levy's disappearance, whether he harmed her or caused anyone else to harm her, and whether he knows where she can be located.

"As polygraph examiners will tell you, only critically important questions should be tested," Lowell said in a rented hotel meeting room packed with reporters and camera crews. "Mr. Colvert asked the ones that count."

Gainer said he had been talking with Lowell all week about having Condit submit to a test by the FBI. Gainer said he thought progress was being made, and that "I took (Lowell) at his word that (Condit) was busy with congressional business" and so did not yet have time for a police test. Calling Lowell's announcement "theatrical," Gainer further noted that polygraph examiners would typically want to work closely with investigators in formulating questions.

Speaking on behalf of the Levys, Martin has been saying for the past week that the family does not trust the 53-year-old congressman who befriended the 24-year-old former intern. Martin, noting that Condit "refuses to meet with me or my investigators so we can ask questions relating to his knowledge of Chandra," further called on Condit to submit to another test conducted by police.

Gainer said the police would like that, too, but admitted it doesn't seem likely.

By Martin's account, Condit assured Susan Levy in early May that his relationship with Chandra was strictly professional. Speaking on the congressman's behalf for 10 weeks, Condit's staff also denied there was any romantic relationship. In a third interview with police, according to multiple news accounts that Condit has not disputed, Condit admitted having an affair with Levy.

"In many respects he has been cooperative," Gainer said Friday, but he added pointedly that "it took us three interviews to get the questions answered that we wanted."

The protocol for asking lie-detector questions and evaluating the results is fairly standard, though the device remains highly controversial. For instance, citing both the intrusiveness and the possibility of erroneous results, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and other nuclear weapons labs successfully resisted widespread testing proposals.

The Supreme Court has not definitively ruled on whether polygraph exams are admissible evidence, and federal courts in different regions differ in how the exams are treated, according to the American Polygraph Association. Some state supreme courts have banned their use altogether, while others allow them.

The machines test for signs of stress, through changes in blood pressure, respiration and sweat when the subject gives a yes or no answer. David Raskin, a polygraph specialist and emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Utah, said the three issue questions — in Condit's case, relating to Levy — are asked with about a 20-second wait between each question. Comparison questions are also typically asked so there's a total of 10 questions. The 10 questions are typically asked three times and scored for a final result.

Raskin said it was smart for Condit to get his own test taken, because of what he called problems with law enforcement practices.

"It would have been very foolish for him to rely on a test by the FBI," Raskin said.

Lowell characterized the lie-detector test as one of multiple examples of Condit's cooperation with police. Along with voluntarily producing a DNA sample, Lowell said Condit voluntarily gave police his home and cell phone records and allowed a search of his condo. Condit's staff members are also being interviewed.

Lowell was critical of the news media for what he said was an obsession about Condit's private life. He said that obsession was diverting attention from the search for Levy, who was last seen April 30, when she canceled her membership at a Washington health club.

Lowell also said that allegations by flight attendant Anne Marie Smith that Condit asked her to sign a statement denying a 10-month affair were irrelevant to finding Levy.

Other interviews, too, are underway, though there are some perplexing elements in what is known of the investigation.

Sven Jones, a friend of Levy's from her Bureau of Prisons internship, has been among several men who've been asked to take a lie-detector test, according to a report in USA Today. On Friday, Jones referred all questions about the investigation to the Levys' attorney. But Michael Frisby, a spokesman for the Levys' attorney, said Jones was not a client.

"To my knowledge, we don't represent him in any way or form," Frisby said.

Jones could not be reached again for clarification.


Michael Doyle is a Washington reporter for Scripps-McClatchy Western Service.