Chandra Levy murder trial – Jury returns guilty verdict

on November 23 2010 1:22 PM
Levy, Guandique And Condit
Murdered federal intern Chandra Levy, main photo, Ingmar Guandique, top right, and Gary A. Condit Reuters

A D.C. Superior Court jury on Monday found Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique guilty of murdering federal intern Chandra Levy, bringing to a close a sensational case that had rocked the nation for nine years.

The jury concluded its four-day deliberation, Monday, and convicted Guandique of two counts of first-degree murder.

One of the two murder counts included an allegation of assault as well as murder. The jury had to convict on assault as well as murder for a first-degree murder guilty verdict.

The guilty verdict means Guandique could be sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of life in prison. Sentencing has been fixed for February 2011.

Monday's verdict brings to a close a murder mystery that destroyed the political career of Gary A. Condit, a former congressman (D-Calif.) who was romantically linked to Levy.

Chandra Levy, 24, went missing in May 1, 2001 just after completing an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. She was last seen jogging in Rock Creek Park. Her disappearance made national headlines for several months as she was a beautiful and ambitious young woman who was having an affair with married Congressman Condit.

Levy's decomposed body was found in May 2002 by a man walking his dog in the woods.

For several months the police suspected that the affair had gone horribly wrong and focused on Condit to the exclusion of everyone else. However, Condit, who lost his Congress seat after news of the affair broke out, had vehemently denied having anything to do with Levy's disappearance despite acknowledging that he liked her very much in an interview with ABC.

Last year, the police finally charged Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant, with raping and killing Levy.

The murder trial began last month (Oct. 18) after the attorneys representing both sides and D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher selected a jury of 4 men and 12 women from a pool of 114 potential jurors. Nine of the jurors are white, six are black and one is an Asian.

Four were chosen as alternates when the panel began deliberations.

During the trial, the prosecutors acknowledged that they have no physical evidence or eyewitnesses in Levy's slaying. However, they produced several witnesses who testified of Levy's physical fitness habits, the color of her clothing and the traces of her final Internet browsing, which ended shortly before she went missing.

The FBI forensic scientists also testified that Levy's semen-stained underwear confirmed her sexual relationship with Condit. Some of Levy's final Internet searches also focused on Condit and his family members, according to trial testimony.

One witness - Maria T. Mendez, who writes to prison inmates as a pen pal on condition that they disclose everything to her, including their crimes - testified she had received a 2 and ½ page letter from Guandique in 2003 in which he said he was imprisoned for a muchacha muerta or a dead girl.

Guandique also had allegedly told her he was homeless and lived in a D.C. park.

However, at that time, Guandique was only serving time for attacking two young women joggers in Rock Creek Park.

Both the women who had fought Guandique off and had escaped testified how they were attacked in the wooded and isolated area of the park.

The prosecution's star witness Armando Morales, a five-time convicted felon, also testified that Guandique, who is a member of Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang, had admitted to him that he had attacked and killed Levy though he never meant to kill her.

The prosecutors also tried to establish to the jury a crime pattern by saying Levy's death was similar to two other attacks he made on young women joggers in Rock Creek Park in the spring and summer of 2001.

The two joggers had survived Guandique's attack and he is currently serving a 10-year prison term for the two assaults.

Condit also took the witness stand and testified that he had nothing to do with Levy's disappearance.

The former congressman said he didn't commit any crime or did anything wrong and is entitled to some level of privacy.

Seems like in this country we've lost a sense of decency, Condit said.

Condit also testified that he and Levy never fought or had any cross words. He said the last time he saw Levy was a week before she was reported missing and they had discussed whether he could help her make some contacts with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies where she had hoped to work. Condit said he had agreed to help her.

However, on cross-examination, when defense attorney Mario Hawilo asked Condit directly whether he had any intimate relationship with Levy, Condit said he's not going to respond to those questions.

During the trial, the defense attorneys submitted Guandique has become a scapegoat for a botched investigation as the prosecutors could produce no evidence to link him to the scene of Levy's murder or death.

They also produced a prison inmate Jose Alaniz, who had testified that he had never heard Guandique talk about Levy or murder to anyone.

They also said Morales was coached by the prosecution and is trying to curry favor with the prosecutors.

According to them, it is possible that Levy was killed elsewhere and then her body was dumped in the park. Someone else should be on trial in this case, lead defense attorney Santha Sonenberg told the jurors.

Sonenberg also said Condit did things like a guilty man.

All throughout the trial, Guandique declined the chance to testify in his own defense. By staying off the witness stand, he avoided cross-examination that could have brought to light more of his criminal record.

Guandique, who was visibly displeased with Monday's verdict, is expected to appeal.

Monday's verdict exonerates Condit whom the police had considered a suspect in Levy's disappearance.

At least Gary Condit can find some measure of closure to this nightmare, said Condit's lawyer Bert Fields.

However, it comes a little late, Fields said. Who gives him his career back?

Meanwhile, Chandra's mother Susan Levy said she will never be free from the pain of losing her daughter. I have a lifetime sentence of a lost limb missing from our family tree, Chandra's mother said after the hearing. It's a lifetime of a broken heart.

Nonetheless, It makes a difference to find the right person who was responsible for my daughter's death, she added.