Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case

"Blame the Victim!"

In November of 1986, word leaked to Jack Litman that the prosecution had read a diary that belonged to Jennifer Levin. To make matters worse, it was rumored that the diary contained a detailed litany of Jennifer's sexual activity including the names of many different young men. Litman claimed that Fairstein first mentioned this diary to him and in doing so said there was an abundance of sexual material in its pages. Fairstein denied this allegation, but Litman submitted court papers asking that the diary be made available to the defense. He said that the diary contained information that could be beneficial to his client and therefore under the rules of evidence, he was entitled to it.

The press immediately dubbed the book the "sex diary." It became linked with Jennifer's name for the duration of the trial and helped to denigrate her reputation as well. Whatever image she had as a young and innocent college girl took a battering in the press who consistently referred to her as "rich," "bubbly," "sexy" and "privileged." Headlines that emphasized the sexual aspects of the case appeared daily in the city's tabloids and the N.Y. Times. Fairstein, trying to stem the tide of bad press, told reporters: "There isn't a sex diary. There is a school date book, but nothing chronicling Jennifer's sex life."

Ultimately, the contested diary was turned over to Judge Bell for a private review. After a reading, Litman's request was denied. Judge Bell wrote that the diary "contained no admissible evidence and nothing that was relevant and material to the defendant's case. He added that Chambers should not be permitted to take "an unrestrained tour of investigation." However, the diary issue was an ominous development for the prosecution team. They feared it was the opening barrage of what was to come in the weeks and months ahead. Would there be no limits to what steps the defense would take to exonerate their client?

An organization called "Justice for Jennifer" was formed by some of her friends and other interested parties who were outraged at the attempts to destroy the victim's reputation. They wore pins whenever they appeared in public and frequently spoke to reporters, condemning the tactics of Chambers' defense team. The spokesperson for the group, Rose Jordan, told the Times that women who are murdered "are victims of the same distortions to justify the violence against them." But there were supporters of the defense tactics as well. A law professor from N.Y.U. School of Law told reporters: "Not only is it not unethical to try to cast aspersions on the character of the victim, it's ethically the lawyer's duty to do that if it will succeed in a not-guilty verdict or conviction of a lesser charge."

But the specter of a "trash Jennifer" defense did not sit well with most people. Although in 1985 changes were made in the rape laws in New York, which restricted testimony into the sexual past of a victim, they did not apply to murder cases. And Jennifer was not around to take the stand in her own defense. The Village Voice said it best in an article titled "Who's On Trial?" when author C. Carr wrote: "The Chambers\Litman story is that of a 'bad girl' who gets what she deserves and a helpless man defending himself from her sexual voraciousness."

 

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