Lawyers seek new trial for convicted killer of Chandra Levy

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 2, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy are seeking a new trial.

In a 17-page legal filing, attorneys for convicted killer Ingmar Guandique claim that jurors acted improperly and that prosecutors went too far in the closing argument. In particular, Guandique's attorneys claim prosecutors sought to inflame juror passions.

"The repeated occurrences of this misconduct, particularly the speculation on matters outside the evidence and pleas for sympathy for (Levy), infected the entire closing," attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo stated.

Sonenberg and Hawilo cited statements made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines as she summed up the case. Though jurors did not hear any testimony concerning Levy's final moments at the hands of Guandique, Haines conjured what they might have been like.

"It was his face that she looked up at and begged for mercy," Haines said during the closing argument in November. "And his face was the last face she saw as she laid there naked and disabled, and he left her to die there in the woods."

Sonenberg further cited newspaper accounts in complaining that some of the 12 jurors in Guandique's trial improperly shared notes with one another. According to the judge's instructions, jurors were supposed to take notes only for their own use.

"The jury's failure to follow instructions from the court regarding the use to be made of notes taken during the trial raises questions and causes concern about whether it followed the court's other instructions," the defense attorneys argued.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Wednesday afternoon that "the office is declining comment because the matter is pending" before D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher.

On Feb. 11, Fisher is scheduled to sentence Guandique. Unless the sentencing is postponed as a consequence of the request for a new trial, Guandique faces sentences of 30 years to life in prison. The District of Columbia does not authorize the death penalty.

An illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Guandique was convicted Nov. 22 of two counts of felony murder. The jury of three men and nine women deliberated for a little more than three days before announcing its verdict.

The jury concluded that Guandique had killed Levy on May 1, 2001, while she was jogging or hiking in Washington's Rock Creek Park. At the time, Levy had finished her graduate studies and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship and was preparing to return to California.

Raised in Modesto, where her parents still live, Levy had also embarked on an affair with then-congressman Gary Condit prior to her disappearance. Speculation, and eventually revelations, about the affair riveted public attention to the case.

Hawilo and Sonenberg, in their new filing dated Feb. 1, cited this "plethora of media coverage" in raising concerns that jurors might have violated the judge's orders. Though Fisher did not sequester the jury during the 10 days of testimony, he did sternly admonish them on a regular basis to avoid all media coverage of the case.

At the least, Hawilo and Sonenberg say, Fisher should conduct an additional hearing into the jurors' conduct. If Fisher denies the bid for a new trial, the claims about an unduly prejudicial closing argument could potentially become the basis for a formal appeal.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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