As Robert Chambers stood on trial for strangling 18-year-old Jennifer Levin to death, he was regularly joined in court by a surprising supporter — a beautiful woman who had become his girlfriend.
Levin’s family was baffled as to why the woman, identified as Shawn Kovell, was so devoted to a man on trial for murder.
“Yeah, we knew about her,” Ellen Levin recalled on “The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park” docu-series currently airing on AMC and Sundance. “Actually, I had no thoughts other than, 'She must be out of her mind. Not a wise choice.'”
TV reporter Rosanna Scotto wondered if Kovell’s attendance at trial may have been a calculated move by the defense to paint Chambers in a better light.
“I wasn’t sure whether it was [attorney] Jack Litman encouraging Robert to bring a woman with him every day to court so that he seemed safe, but Shawn seemed very smitten, and so it kind of softened who Robert Chambers might be,” she said in the docu-series.
Whatever Kovell’s motives may have been during the trial, the former club kid would later prove her undying commitment to her man by waiting for him to serve out his 15-year sentence in jail. But the couple wouldn’t get the fairy tale ending they may have imagined. Instead, they would both find themselves in legal trouble for dealing drugs from Kovell’s apartment.
Just who was Chambers' devoted supporter?
Kovell was raised on the edge of the Upper East Side by a single mom, Karline, who worked as a hat-check girl at New York restaurants along the city’s old “steak row," according to a 2007 profile in The New York Times.
Mary McGinnis once worked with Karline, also known as Rusty, and described the mother-daughter pair as “the kindest and most loyal people you could meet.” They made a habit of rescuing cats and saw the best in others.
“They wanted to think everyone was very nice,” she said. “They may have been a little naïve. When they met someone and decided they liked them, they were very loyal. Her mother got quite attached to Chambers.”
Shawn’s friend David Cohen told the news outlet that Shawn didn’t always have a lot of supervision.
“She was very much an alcoholic,” he said of Rusty.
As a teen, Shawn became a fixture in the club scene, including at Studio 54 and Palladium.
“She knew all the doormen when she was 17,” Paul Heyman, a wrestling manager who knew Shawn told The Times. “She was famous to the club kids.”
Cohen said his friend “liked to party” and began using drugs recreationally.
She met Chambers before his trial began, when a mutual friend took her to a gathering at his apartment.
“I really got the impression that she felt loved by Rob when she met him and, however ironically, she feels safe with him,” Cohen told The Times.
A video would later be leaked to "A Current Affair" showing a lingerie-clad Shawn with Chambers in December 1987 — a month before his high-profile trial would begin — surrounded by other women. The video showed him twisting the head off a doll and then saying, “I think I killed her,” but the media wouldn't get a copy of the tape until the trial was over.
“We immediately put it on that night and all hell broke loose,” Steve Dunleavy, lead reporter for "A Current Affair," recalled of the sensational reaction the tape caused.
Shawn was a fixture — along with Chambers’ parents — at the trial that began in January 1988.
When Chambers made a last-minute decision to plead guilty to manslaughter, she continued to support him behind bars, often taking a bus to go see him in prison.
When he got out of prison 15 years later, Shawn was waiting, and the pair decided to move to join one of Rusty's friends in Georgia.
"I said, 'Why not send them down here? I've got plenty of room, and Robert can start a new life,'" Connie Hambright told The New York Daily News in 2007.
Chambers got a job at the Pentafab dye factory, and the couple appeared to be doing well in their new surroundings. However, after Shawn’s mother died of cancer, the couple decided they couldn’t let her rent-stabilized apartment go, and headed back to the city.
"I know they agonized over the decision: 'Do we give up the apartment or do we not?'" Cheryl Phipps, a Georgia neighbor, told The Daily News.
But, back in their old surroundings the couple fell heavily into an old habit — drugs. After neighbors complained of multiple people coming in and out of the apartment, police set up a three-month undercover operation, in which they purchased $9,600 in cocaine from the pair as part of an effort to nab the couple for dealing drugs out of the apartment.
Hambright believes they made the decision to sell drugs to make their $1,800 a month rent.
“My heart is broken,” she told The Daily News after the arrest. “I think it happened out of desperation, financial desperation. They couldn’t make the rent.”
At the time of her arrest, those who knew her said the former beauty looked haggard and emaciated.
“She was in bad shape,” lead Detective Mike Sheehan said in the docu-series. “I didn’t even recognize her.”
Chambers would receive a 19-year sentence behind bars after pleading guilty in 2008 to assault and selling drugs. A judge ordered Shawn to rehab.
Little is known of what became of her in recent years, but in 2009 after completing a 14-month rehab for heroin addiction, she was placed on probation, according to New York Magazine.
Shawn's love for Chambers remained steadfast.
“After 22 years, I don’t love him any less than Day 1,” she said at the time.
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