Chandra Levy judge issues more rulings as trial nears

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 22, 2010 

WASHINGTON — A judge on Wednesday both eased and complicated the job of prosecuting the man accused of killing former intern Chandra Levy with a pair of pretrial rulings that lets some evidence in but keeps other evidence out.

Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher also indicated that he's likely to let Levy's mother, Modesto resident Susan Levy, attend most if not all of the trial even though she could be called as a witness.

"I'm certainly inclined to let Mrs. Levy to be present as much as legally possible," Fisher stated, though he stopped short of a formal ruling. "She's going to be present for a large portion of the trial, and maybe the entirety of it."

Fisher said he'd make a final determination about Susan Levy's appearance on the eve of the trial, now scheduled to start Oct. 4.

Prosecutors say Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique attempted to sexually assault Chandra Levy on May 1, 2001, and then killed her while she was jogging in Washington's heavily wooded Rock Creek Park. At the time, Levy had finished graduate studies and a Bureau of Prisons internship.

Levy was reportedly planning to return to California, where she was raised.

There are no direct witnesses or DNA evidence linking Guandique to the attack. Instead, the prosecutors rely on various statements Guandique has made to fellow prison inmates and others over the years, as well as his own admitted record of attacking women in Rock Creek Park.

Consequently, the success or failure of the prosecution could turn on the kind of evidence that the judge allows to be admitted.

During a two-and-a-half-hour hearing Wednesday afternoon, Fisher agreed that papers, photographs and other material seized from Guandique's prison cell in Victorville, Calif. can be admitted. Guandique's defense attorneys had argued that the cell search was unconstitutional.

"In a prison setting, prisoners have a diminished and in some cases (non-existent) expectation of privacy," Fisher countered.

Fisher further agreed that the prosecutors could present testimony from park police officers who interviewed Guandique following an August 2001 attack in Rock Creek Park.

But in a victory for defense attorneys, Fisher said he would not permit the prosecutors, assistant U.S. attorneys Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, to present statements Guandique made to a court officer preparing a pre-sentencing report.

"Sometimes, I cannot control myself when I see someone alone in a secluded area with something of value," Guandique allegedly told a court officer in 2001.

The pre-sentence report was being prepared to assist a judge handling another, unrelated criminal case involving Guandique.

Defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo had argued that the statements would unfairly prejudice jurors against Guandique by suggesting that he had a propensity for violent action. They also noted Guandique had spoken to the court officer without being given his Miranda rights.

Miranda rights remind suspects that their words can be used against them and that they can request an attorney.

Fisher did not directly address the Miranda issue, but he cited a number of prior cases that concluded pre-sentence reports were not intended as tools for prosecutors.

"I find disclosure of this material is in violation of a clear and compelling policy that governs the preparation of pre-sentence reports," Fisher said.

Guandique faces a potential sentence of life in prison, as the District of Columbia doesn't allow the death penalty. Attorneys predict the trial will last about five weeks. Jury selection alone is expected to consume the first three days, as the trial's length and the case's notoriety will make it harder to find unbiased jurors able to serve.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service