Jury seated in trial of man accused of killing Chandra Levy

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 22, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Attorneys on Friday finished selecting a multiracial, larger-than-usual jury panel for the trial of the man accused of killing former Modesto resident Chandra Levy.

The 16-member panel includes four alternates, who won't know their status until jury deliberations begin. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher doubled the number of alternates from the usual two because of the case's atypical length and notoriety.

Opening statements will start Monday, for a trial that prosecutors say could last about four weeks.

"We've been trying to streamline it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines assured Fisher earlier this week.

The jury panel finalized Friday afternoon includes four men and 12 women. By appearance, the panel consists of nine Caucasians, one Asian-American and six African-Americans. Several appeared to be dressed as white-collar professionals; several looked as if they might be retired.

"We have now selected a jury," Fisher said after about 45 minutes of winnowing through potential jurors. "The system of justice, civil and criminal, just doesn't function unless people are willing to come down here and serve."

The jury will decide the fate of Ingmar Guandique, who prosecutors say killed Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park. At the time, the 24-year-old Levy had finished graduate studies and a Bureau of Prisons internship and was reportedly planning on returning to California.

The panel doesn't appear to include any Hispanic members.

Guandique's attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, had previously raised fears that Hispanics would be under-represented on the jury. Hispanics make up about 8.5 percent of the District of Columbia's population. In theory, that would be roughly equivalent to having one or two Hispanics on the 16-member jury panel.

Sonenberg and Hawilo had also asked Fisher to dismiss the charges or replace the prosecutors, citing a recently revealed ruse in which previous investigators tried to trick Guandique into a pen-pal relationship in which he might incriminate himself. On Friday, Fisher formally rejected the defense arguments.

"I cannot find there was a constitutional violation," Fisher stated, adding that "there was nothing obtained from the defendant, so there was no harm."

Personal details about the jurors, including their names, ages and professions, are not being made public by the court.

The final panel was selected from an initial pool of some 112 individuals. Forty-one passed the initial screening, in which Fisher had dismissed potential jurors for such causes as demonstrated bias or unavoidable work conflicts.

On Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys used a total of 19 peremptory challenges to further winnow the jury. The attorneys didn't have to publicly state their reasons for each dismissal.

A number of the individuals dismissed during earlier the voir dire process that began Monday lost their seats because of stated animus toward illegal immigrants and gang members. Guandique entered the United States illegally from his native El Salvador and is a reported member of Mara Salvatrucha, the gang also known as MS-13.

As he has throughout the week, Guandique wore a turtleneck sweater Friday — this one was Navy blue — that effectively hid his neck tattoos.

One of the dismissed potential jurors Friday also displayed neck tattoos. Another potential juror, who was discovered to have sent a Twitter message about the case, was summoned to a lengthy conversation with the judge but never made it to the jury box.

Many potential jurors also acknowledged having previously heard about the Levy case. Few, though, seemed to recall specific details from the rampant media coverage that often revolved around Levy's relationship with former California congressman Gary Condit.

"Ms. Levy was dating some political person," one potential juror told Fisher, while another referred to Levy's supposed involvement with a "senator."

Yet another potential juror told Fisher that he and his wife "made a point of who could get to the remote control first to change the (television) channel, because we just got tired of hearing about (the case)."

Prosecutors have named Condit as a potential witness, or at least someone whose name may crop up during the trial. In court filings this week, San Diego-based criminal defense attorney Thomas J. Warwick Jr. identified himself as Condit's current lawyer.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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