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A prosecutor claimed Friday that Roman Catholic Church members...

By
ESTHER PESSIN

NEW YORK -- A prosecutor claimed Friday that Roman Catholic Church members have solicited money on behalf of accused preppie murderer Robert Chambers Jr., a former altar boy freed on bail with the help of an archbishop.

The disclosure during the third day of jury selection brought an angry denial from defense attorney Jack Litman who told the assistant district attorney in a stage whisper, 'Absolutely no one in the church is soliciting funds on his behalf.'

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The subject came up as prosecutor Linda Fairstein was questioning a fashion buyer in her 20s who works for the clothing outlet Anne Taylor and is a Catholic.

Religion has become an issue in the case because Newark Archbishop Theodore McCarrick wrote a letter on behalf of Chambers to help him win $150,000 bail and the former altar boy lived in the Church of the Incarnation rectory in Washington Heights for months after he was freed.

Fairstein asked the prospective juror whether she was aware of the Catholic Church's involvement with Chambers and that 'church members solicited funds on his behalf.'

Monsignor Thomas Leonard of the Church of the Incarnation, who was ordered by the court to keep an eye on the young man, said he didn't know of anyone in the church had been collecting money for Chambers.

'He wouldn't get any money up here. All the money collected here is for the church,' Leonard said.

The young man, who attended some of the most exclusive schools in the New York area, has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly strangling another prep school graduate, Jennifer Levin, 18, in Central Park on Aug. 26, 1986.

In a graphic videotaped confession, Chambers admitted killing Levin but claims he accidentally choked her during rough sex.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound young man said Levin tied his hands behind his back with her panties and 'molested' him.

Jury selection in the case began Wednesday. Thus far, 16 prospective panelists have been dismissed. Five have been asked to return for further questioning from the pool of 100 men and women.

Fairstein indicated through her questions that she doesn't plan to present the jury with evidence of the motive Chambers might have had to intentionally murder Levin.

She informs potential jurors 'I don't have to prove' a motive.

Fairstein told one man that she can't 'get inside his (Chambers') head' when the prospective panelist said he would want to know a reason why the suspect would want to murder Levin.

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