Testimony ends in Chandra Levy murder trial

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 15, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Monday concluded 10 days of pro-and-con testimony about the man accused of killing former intern Chandra Levy.

After hearing from some 45 witnesses over 10 days, jurors on Tuesday will consider closing arguments before they start deliberations on the government’s scaled-down case.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is the evidence,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher declared shortly before 4:30 p.m.

The case that jurors will consider is smaller than the one prosecutors first proposed when they initially charged accused killer Ingmar Guandique last year.

On Monday, prosecutors dropped kidnapping and attempted robbery charges against Guandique, apparently because of statute of limitations issues in a case that dates to May 2001.

The decision by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez leaves only two felony murder counts remaining. Fisher on Monday had not yet decided whether jurors can settle on a lesser charge of second-degree murder.

At its peak, the prosecutor’s case against Guandique included a total of nine charges including attempted sexual assault, obstruction of justice and other crimes. Seven of these charges have now been dropped.

Prosecutors say Guandique killed the 24-year-old Levy on May 1, 2001, in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Prosecutors initially theorized the murder occurred during an attempted sexual assault.

With Chandra’s mother, Susan, watching from the audience, Guandique on Monday formally declined the chance to testify in his own defense.

A poorly educated, Spanish-speaking illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Guandigue said through a translator that he would not take the stand in a case that's now down to a few final witnesses.

"It's your decision to make," D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher assured Guandique, adding that "I will instruct the jury at the end of the trial that they cannot use that decision as evidence of your guilt."

Guandique answered a series of Fisher's questions with simple "yes" or "no" answers, spoken through an interpreter.

By staying off the witness stand, the 29-year-old Guandique avoids what could be a withering cross-examination that would bring to light more of his criminal record. Jurors, for instance, do not currently know Guandique is now serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for attempted robbery.

Guandique is dressed in civilian clothes for trial, with his shackles removed and his neck tattoos covered up with turtleneck sweaters.

Prosecutors say Guandique killed the 24-year-old Levy on May 1, 2001, in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Prosecutors initially theorized the murder occurred during an attempted sexual assault, but they dropped the assault charges last week.

Prosecutors previously presented some 40 witnesses over nine days, although only inmate Armando Morales directly tied Guandique to Levy's murder. A former member of the Fresno Bulldogs gang, and a one-time cellmate of Guandique, Morales testified that Guandique confessed in 2006 to killing Levy as part of a robbery.

On Monday, defense attorneys continued their effort to challenge the credibility of Morales. Another federal inmate who was discovered to have shared an 8 by 12 cell in 2006 with Morales and Guandique testified he never heard Guandique talk about Levy or murder.

“I didn’t hear nothing,” said Jose Alaniz, a 28-year-old gang member serving time on gun charges.

On cross-examination, though, Alaniz acknowledged that he sometimes had his radio headset on, and that he could not understand most of what Morales and Guandique were saying in Spanish. He said he also slept a lot, as he was recovering from a gunshot wound.

Morales had also claimed a sexily clad defense investigator had come to a rural Virginia jail, where he is being temporarily housed. His implication was that the investigator was wearing shorts and a tight shirt in order to increase her allure.

But the 25-year-old investigator, Brianna Bond, insisted that she actually wore gray slacks, a short-sleeved shirt and a sweater.

"These are my jail slacks," Bond said, holding up a pair. "They're a little frumpy."

Defense attorneys also have summoned jailers to discuss their dress code for visitors, hoping to convince jurors that the Morales testimony defied credibility.

During her testimony Monday, Bond wore a conservative black pantsuit.

The defense presentation could finish by Monday afternoon, with testimony from an inmate who also has been called to challenge the credibility of Morales. Prosecutors are likely to present several additional rebuttal witnesses.

With closing arguments possibly taking place Tuesday or Wednesday morning, the jurors could start deliberating as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The makeup of the jury itself became a little more clear Monday, as the court released some preliminary information. The 16-member jury panel, which includes four alternates, includes two journalists, an attorney, an engineer and an individual engaged in the hospitality profession.

Ten of the 16 jury panel members graduated from college or have some post-graduate academic background. Only one of the 16, a claims examiner, attended no college.

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