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'Preppy Killer' Is Out Of Prison

First lady Michelle Obama particpates in a healthy kids fair on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009. The first lady invited about 100 children and parents from local elementary schools to participate in the event.
AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
Robert Chambers, who became notorious in the 1980s as the "Preppie killer" when he strangled a young woman during a tryst in Central Park, was released from prison Friday after serving his full 15-year sentence for manslaughter.

Chambers confessed in 1988 to strangling 18-year-old Jennifer Levin two years earlier. He claimed it was an accident while they were allegedly having rough sex; prosecutors said he killed her in a rage.

Wearing a red sweater and green pants, Chambers ignored a phalanx of reporters as he walked out of Auburn Correctional Facility at 7:15 a.m., got into a van and rode off.

The prosecutor at his 1988 trial, Linda Fairstein, insists Chambers and Levin were not portrayed fairly by the media during the trial.

The Levin slaying was splashed across New York City's tabloids in the summer of 1986 as a story of privileged youth gone bad. The suspect, a college dropout with a taste for cocaine, was Hollywood handsome. The victim was pretty, a private school student from a well-to-do family. And the defense — consensual sex gone amok — was startling.

The two met in a trendy Upper East Side bar. Levin's battered, partially nude body was found under a tree behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the pair went after leaving the bar.

"In fact, he was a substance abuser," Fairstein told CBS News Early Show Correspondent Jon Frankel. "There was nothing preppie about him. He was committing burglaries, street-level burglaries, with a very unsavory group of kids who did not go to prep school and he was a drop out."

Chambers said he accidentally asphyxiated Levin after she hurt his genitals. Prosecutors charged Chambers was drunk and high on drugs and killed Levin in a rage when he was not able to perform sexually.

Fairstein, now a close friend of the Levin family, believes it was more than just "rough sex" or an accident.

"I think that he strangled her and smothered her to death with his bare hands face to face," she said.

"It was ugly, and it was particularly ugly to see this very warm, lovable, delightful young woman who very much wanted to be alive be blamed as the agent of her own death," she added.

Any sympathy for Chambers evaporated when a home video made during his trial was broadcast on television after he went to prison. It showed Chambers partying with friends, ripping the head off a doll and saying "Oops, I think I killed it."

On the eve of his release, Chambers issued a statement of regret through his lawyer.

"There has not been a day since Jennifer Levin's death that I have not regretted my actions on that day," the one-paragraph statement said. "I know that the Levin family continues to suffer her loss, and I am deeply sorry for the grief I have caused them."

In the statement, Chambers also said he would like to pursue a college degree and begin paying the $25 million wrongful death settlement awarded the Levin family. He said he would not grant interviews after his release.

"What I'm trying to do is encourage him to use the opportunity now that he failed to use before to use his talents and his skills and to put them to work," said Monsignor Thomas Leonard, a long-time friend of the Chambers family, who visited Chambers last month.

Chambers, now 36, could have reduced his sentence by as much as six years but ruined any chance of early release by amassing 27 disciplinary violations during his incarceration, including heroin possession, assaulting a guard, and weapon possession. He spent a third of his time in solitary confinement and was rejected for parole five times.

Levin's relatives have said they were dreading the prospect of Chambers' release.

Ellen Levin said Chambers has never shown any remorse in her daughter's death, nor admitted any culpability. She remains bitter that Chambers was able to plead guilty to manslaughter after jurors had deliberated for nine days and prosecutors feared a deadlock.

"I don't think you can teach a person in any prison situation or anywhere how to have a conscience, and Robert Chambers does not have a conscience. And that makes him dangerous," Ellen Levin said in a broadcast interview Thursday.

Because he served the required maximum sentence, Chambers is not under any parole supervision now that he is free.

He had pleaded no contest to a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Levins and must pay them any lump sum payments he earns, plus 10 percent of his wages.