The Deal And The Sentence

Chambers Copped A Plea And Did The Max

Robert Chambers' murder trial had all the electric buzz of a New York City media event. As 48 Hours Investigates correspondent Troy Roberts reports, the newspaper columnists were dissecting his entire life.

"Sure. Just as they will when they see this," says Chambers today. "They will look at every time I move my thumb. If I jiggle my leg, if I sit forward, if I lean back, they're gonna look for it."

The trial lasted three months and included a visit to the crime scene for the jury and for Chambers. After nine days of deliberations, the jury would deadlock, unable to agree on a murder conviction. The impasse forced the D.A's hand, and Chambers was offered a deal.

Chambers recalls, "My attorney entered the room, and he said, 'The district attorney is offering you 5 to 15.' I didn't like the deal."

The plea bargain required that Chambers admit in court that he intended to harm Jennifer Levin, something he had and always continues to deny. On March 25, 1988, Robert Chambers pleaded guilty to manslaughter one.

In prison, he told Roberts, Chambers was not assaulted in any way. But, still, he said, "It's rough. It's dangerous. It's scary."

Chambers says the older inmates taught him the ropes. But how he actually did his time cuts straight to the heart of his story, and perhaps his character -- and the question of whether or not Robert Chambers will ever stay out of trouble.

He had 27 disciplinary violations for everything from weapons possession, drug possession, assault, disobeying direct orders. Chambers says many of the charges were minor, even trumped up. But, because of his poor disciplinary record, he would spend more than four years in solitary confinement.

Robert Chambers is a free man now, still being chased by the media, trying, he says, to get on with his life. He has a girlfriend, someone he met after his arrest in 1986, who has supported him ever since. She didn't want 48 Hours Investigates to show her face… or divulge her name, but she says that Chambers has learned now how to be a friend.

Chambers claims to have no money of his own. He says he wants to earn a college degree…and find steady work. He owes the Levin family $25 million, the result of an uncontested civil suit. And if he lands a job -- any job -- 10 percent of his pay goes to the Levins for the rest of his life.

"This is real life, this is real death," says Chambers. "Somebody is dead. There has to be some action after the words. My action of doing 15 years. No… That's just the beginning, it's not an end. The trial didn't end. The trial lives with me. Every day, I'm on trial."

But the Levins have never accepted any apology from Robert Chambers. For them, time stopped cold for their daughter Jennifer. This year, she would have been 34 years old.

The Story Of The Summer Of '86

Chambers Speaks