Jury returns guilty verdict in Chandra Levy murder trial

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 22, 2010 

WASHINGTON mdash; A jury on Monday convicted Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique of killing Chandra Levy in 2001.

The jury of three men and nine women deliberated for a little more than three days before announcing its verdict, which caps one of the nation's longest-running and most relentlessly chronicled murder mysteries.

The two first-degree felony murder convictions subject Guandique to a potential sentence of 30 years to life in prison, as the District of Columbia doesn't have the death penalty.

"It’s been an important Monday morning for me and my family," Levy's mother, Susan Levy, said shortly after the verdict was read. "It makes a difference to find the right person who was responsible for my daughter's death."

"I have a lifetime sentence, of a missing limb, missing from my family tree," Levy said.

Guandique's sentencing will come Feb. 11, after additional court proceedings. The fearsomely tattooed 29-year-old already is serving a prison sentence for attacking two other women in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

Rock Creek Park is where, jurors agreed, Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted robbery and kidnapping. All told, the jurors convened for roughly 18 hours.

"I don'’t know that it was a difficult decision, but it was lengthy," said juror Linda Norton, a 62-year-old interior designer. "We felt we owed it to everyone involved to go through all of the evidence."

Another juror, 28-year-old restaurant worker Emily Grinstead, stressed that there was no single element of the prosecution's case that ensured conviction.

"At the end of the day, the decision was based on all of the evidence, and not just one piece," Grinstead said.

A third juror, 58-year-old journalist Susan Kelly, added that the closing arguments "were very effective" in summing up the case.

The three jurors said the jury had agreed not to discuss its deliberations in detail.

"They set aside all the rumors and speculation," U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said in a post-verdict news conference.

Machen hadn't appeared during the trial, which was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines and her colleague, Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez.

Three witnesses seemed most compelling during the 10 days of testimony.

Two women who survived their own 2001 attacks by Guandique described vividly what happened.

"He grabbed me from behind and held a knife to my face," recounted Christy Wiegand, who's now a 35-year-old lawyer with two children. "He brutally attacked me, and dragged me to an isolated area."

Guandique's other known surviving victim, Halle Shilling, recalled how she "felt an incredible thud" when Guandique jumped her from behind while she was jogging.

Shilling, who's now a mother of three living in Southern California, and Wiegand were able to fight off Guandique. They were considerably bigger than the 24-year-old Levy.

Prosecutors also benefited from the firmly spoken recollections of inmate Armando Morales. A former gang member who's serving time on drug charges, Morales testified that Guandique told him in 2006 that he'd killed Levy.

"He told me he spotted her over there at the park," said Morales, who shared a prison cell with Guandique for six weeks. "She was alone, and she had on one of those waist pouches. He decided to rob her. He said he hid in the bushes. … He ran up behind her and grabbed her from behind. He said he dragged her into the bushes.

"He said by the time he had dragged her into the bushes, she had stopped struggling. He said he never meant to kill her."

Levy had finished graduate studies and a Federal Bureau of Prisons internship when she disappeared. She was planning to take a May 5 Amtrak train back home to California's San Joaquin Valley, trial testimony revealed.

The 10 days of testimony shed considerable light on Levy's life and times. Witnesses told of Levy's physical fitness habits, the color of her clothing and the traces of her final Internet browsing, which ended shortly before 1 p.m. on May 1, 2001.

Most intimately, Levy's semen-spotted underwear, examined by the FBI, confirmed that she'd had a sexual relationship with then-California Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Condit. Some of Levy's final Internet searches focused on Condit and his family members, according to trial testimony.

In the trial's most anticipated moment, Condit testified for about two hours, during which time he denied killing Levy and refused to admit to an affair with the much younger woman.

Of the 40 prosecution witnesses, only Morales directly connected Guandique to Levy. Prosecutors didn't call other prison snitches whom investigators previously had cited as having heard Guandique confess.

Prosecutors lacked any DNA, fingerprint, fiber or other physical evidence that connected Guandique to Levy or the wooded Rock Creek Park hillside where her skeletal remains were found in May 2002. There were no eyewitnesses.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

The Modesto Bee's complete coverage of the Chandra Levy case

Chandra Levy murder trial jury adjourns for weekend

Levy trial prosecutors, defense attorneys make final arguments

Testimony ends in Chandra Levy murder trial

Levy trial prosecutors drop several counts, rest case

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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