Levy trial prosecutors, defense attorneys make final arguments

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 16, 2010 

WASHINGTON _ Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Tuesday concluded their closing arguments in the trial of the man accused of killing Chandra Levy, casting the pros and cons in starkly different terms.

In a 53-minute summation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines urged jurors to convict Ingmar Guandique of felony murder for the 2001 killing. Using words, maps and photos, she sketched out what she says were Levy’s final, terrifying moments in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

“He followed her, he attacked her from behind and he took her down by the neck,” Haines said, pointing to Guandique.

But Guandique’s lead defense attorney, Santha Sonenberg, repeatedly cast doubt on the prosecution’s evidence and suggested Levy might have died someplace other than the heavily wooded park where her bones were found in 2002.

“Somebody else should be on trial in this case,” Sonenberg said.

In particular, Sonenberg all but indicated that former California congressman Gary Condit merited much more scrutiny from investigators. She cited, for instance, Condit’s 2002 refusal to speak to a grand jury as a potential effort to shield his own motive for wanting Levy dead.

“He does things like a guilty man,” Sonenberg said of Condit. “He doesn’t cooperate with police … and even now he doesn’t answer questions."

Levy had been involved in an affair with Condit, graphic DNA trial testimony showed. Haines and Sonenberg both cited Condit’s name several times through their closing arguments, including when Haines explained why Levy was looking for something to do by herself that warm May day she disappeared.

“She wasn’t meeting anybody,” Haines said. “Gary Condit’s wife was in town. She was alone.”

Condit testified early in the trial. He denied killing Levy but refused to answer questions about the exact nature of his relationship with the much younger woman.

Haines finished her closing arguments shortly after noon, speaking without notes and, at times, with a quietly theatrical flourish. Sonenberg, speaking with the aid of a written outline, spoke for a total of about 80 minutes, separated by a lunch break.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez concluded with a rebuttal argument before D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher gave instructions to the jury a little after 4 p.m. on the 11th day of trial. A full day of jury deliberations was to start Wednesday.

The jury instructions will allow jurors to find Guandique guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder, if they don’t convict him of first-degree felony murder.

The felony murder charges assert that Guandique killed Levy during an attempted robbery, a kidnapping or both. The kidnapping relates to Levy being dragged off a trail into the woods.

As described by Haines, Guandique stalked the 24-year-old Levy and then jumped her on the afternoon of May 1, 2001. Though prosecutors dropped formal sexual assault charges against the 29-year-old Guandique, they are still portraying the attack as sexually oriented.

“We know something terrible happened to her,” Haines said. “We know that what happened in those woods was ghastly.”

Noting that Levy’s clothes were found inside out, with her black exercise tights tied into knots, Haines suggested one scenario whereby Levy was stripped naked and “had leaves and mud stuffed in her mouth as a gag, and she lives for days, potentially, not being able to make it out of the woods.”

Chandra’s mother, Susan Levy, was present Tuesday, as she has been for most of the trial that began Oct. 25.

At the time of her death, Levy had finished graduate studies and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship. She was wearing a T-shirt from her graduate school alma mater, the University of Southern California, when she was killed.

Sonenberg, though, questioned whether Levy might have been stripped naked after her death, and not before.

“You have to wonder whether Chandra Levy’s already dead body was taken to Rock Creek Park,” Sonenberg said.

Sonenberg further stressed the lack of any DNA, hair or fiber evidence connecting Guandique to Levy or the crime scene.

Haines relied primarily on an inmate informant and on the testimony of two women who Guandique admitted attacking in Rock Creek Park. Guandique pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in those attacks.

The inmate informant, Armando Morales, said Guandique confessed to him in 2006, while they were cellmates in Kentucky.

“He said, ‘I killed that bitch, but I didn’t rape her,'” Morales testified.

While Sonenberg relentlessly attacked Morales as an untrustworthy fabricator, Haines cast Morales as a man who has turned his law-breaking life around after years in violent gangs. Morales, she said, can be proof that “prison has worked for (at least) one person.”

“Justice needs to happen,” Haines concluded. “Chandra has been waiting nine years for justice, and just because it’s been nine years in coming doesn’t mean it should be denied.”

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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