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Chandra Levy Verdict: Ingmar Guandique is Guilty

Chandra Levy Verdict: Ingmar Guandique is Guilty

In this May 28, 2002 file photo taken at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. photos of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy. (AP)

Associated Press

November 22, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – A D.C. Superior Court jury on Monday found Ingmar Guandique guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of former federal intern Chandra Levy.

The jury of nine women and three men reached its verdict after 3 1/2 days of deliberations.

Chandra Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, let out an audible sigh and looked right at Guandique as the verdict was read and the jurors were polled. Two of the jurors seemed to wipe away tears.

Guandique, 29, wearing a blue turtleneck and a gray sweater vest, listened through headphones that translated the verdict into English. He stared straight ahead and had no visible reaction.

But as he was led from the courtroom, he ripped off the headphones and threw them onto the defense table.

Outside the building, Susan Levy and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines, who prosecuted the case, locked in an embrace.

“Thank you,” Levy said to Haines. “. . . That was a miracle.”

“Miracles happen,” Haines replied.

Before the verdict was read, Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher extended his condolences to Susan Levy and others with an interest in the case.

The verdict was a major victory for the U.S. attorney’s office in the District.

The Levy case was challenging for the prosecution from the start. There was no forensic evidence linking Guandique to the crime scene, no murder weapon, no eyewitness and no definitive ruling from the medical examiner on what killed Levy. Numerous mistakes by police and forensic scientists further hampered the investigation.

Levy, 24, disappeared May 1, 2001. She was having an affair at the time with Gary A. Condit, the married congressman from her California home town, who was 30 years her senior, and Condit was the first suspect in Levy’s disappearance. Levy was in Washington after having completed an internship as part of her master’s degree studies at the University of Southern California.

More than a month after her disappearance, police searched Rock Creek Park for any signs of Levy but did not find anything. A year later, while walking his dog through the park, a man found Levy’s skull.

Police located more of her remains and some of her belongings, including her sports bra, black tights and T-shirt. But by then, valuable DNA evidence had long eroded.

Without any forensic evidence, prosecutors based their case on two primary pillars. First, they argued, that Guandique preyed on women in Rock Creek Park and that the attack on Levy was part of a pattern. Guandique was convicted in 2002 of attacking two female joggers in the park around the same time Levy disappeared, and those joggers testified at the trial.

The second pillar of the government’s case was the testimony of one of Guandique’s former cellmates, who was housed with Guandique when he was serving time for the jogger attacks. The inmate told jurors that Guandique admitted to him in 2006 that he killed Levy.

Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, also had scratches on his face at the time Levy disappeared and gave varying accounts to friends about how he got them, according to testimony.

Prosecutors argued that the scratches were a result of a struggle that he had with Levy in the park.

Defense attorneys argued that there was no forensic evidence tying Guandique to the crime scene, because Guandique didn’t commit the crime. He wasn’t there, they argued. They theorized that Levy wasn’t killed in the park, but her body was dumped there.

They brought in another cellmate of Guandique’s, who testified that Guandique never mentioned Levy’s name.

Prosecutors had originally charged Guandique with nine counts in connection with Levy’s slaying, including first-degree murder, attempted kidnapping, attempted sexual assault and robbery. Prosecutors also charged him with obstruction of justice and making threats against one of its witnesses, a former cellmate. Guandique’s attorneys argued that their client never wrote threatening letters to the witness, and those charges were dropped days before the trial began.

By the time the jury began deliberating Wednesday, all the charges besides two counts of first-degree felony murder had been dropped.

For months, when Levy was considered only a missing person, police viewed Condit as the prime suspect and failed to follow other leads. For eight years, the case sat as detectives and prosecutors searched for clues. Then last year, prosecutors believed they had enough evidence and charged Guandique with Levy’s murder.

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