Lawyers for Levy's accused killer, prosecutors battle over jury pool

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 20, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the illegal immigrant accused of killing former intern and Modesto resident Chandra Levy failed Friday in their efforts to aggressively seek out more Hispanic jurors.

Amid serious pretrial maneuvering, a judge rejected defense requests that potential Washington jurors be courted with special Spanish-language mailings.

"We do have a requirement for proficiency in English, so it seems a little counterintuitive to send out our summons in Spanish," District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher said.

In another blow to attorneys for accused killer Ingmar Guandique, Fisher said he would not order release of the names of Washington jurors from the past several years. Guandique's attorneys wanted the names to evaluate whether Hispanics are absent from D.C. juries.

"We have maybe the most inclusive system for summoning jurors in the country," Fisher said. "We are desperate to get people down here for service."

Instead of individual juror names from recent years, defense attorneys will instead be given their zip codes. This provides some demographic information without the risk of personal information being released publicly.

Guandique's attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo from the public defenders office, had argued that there is a "statistically significant under-representation of the Hispanic population in the jury pool."

Of potential Washington jurors identifying themselves by race, the defense attorneys noted that only 2.3 percent were Hispanic. By contrast, Hispanics account for 4 percent of the D.C. population eligible to serve on a jury.

The unusually intense maneuvering over Hispanic jurors contributed to Fisher's calling the upcoming trial "a unique case" with multiple complications.

Prosecutors say Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001, in the midst of an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Levy's remains were found a year later.

At the time of her disappearance, Levy had finished graduate school and a Bureau of Prisons internship and was reportedly planning to return to California. She was raised in Modesto, where her parents still live.

Largely because of revelations that Levy had been having an affair with then-congressman Gary Condit, and despite the passage of many years, the upcoming trial now set to start Oct. 4 remains what Fisher termed Friday "a very high publicity case."

In an effort to screen out the resulting bias, potential jurors will first answer roughly 50 written questions. The written questionnaire, which is rare in Washington trials, will cover topics ranging from attitudes toward illegal immigrants to attitudes towards gangs and tattoos.

Guandique entered the United States illegally from his native El Salvador. He is allegedly a member of the infamous MS-13 gang, and his skin abounds in prison tattoos.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Haines and Fernando Campomor-Sanchez successfully resisted, though, defense efforts to include some written questions including whether the potential juror has a child roughly the age of Chandra Levy when she died.

Guandique's attorneys are still trying to block prosecutors from using a "pre-sentence" report prepared July 19, 2001. The report dealt with a different crime for which Guandique had pleaded guilty.

"When I'm about to commit an offense, I tell myself to go ahead and do it, but afterwards I feel bad about it," Guandique said, according to the 2001 report. "Sometimes, I cannot control myself when I see someone alone in a secluded area with something of value."

The reporting officer added that Guandique "has transitioned from the role of victim to that of predator, and it is quite clear that he is becoming more psychopathic in his behavior."

Guandique's attorneys want this report suppressed, because he wasn't read his rights before talking to the officer. This conflict is one of several that still must be resolved before the trial begins.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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