Chandra Levy's killer sentenced to 60 years in prison

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 11, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The man convicted of killing Chandra Levy was sentenced Friday to 60 years in prison.

Punctuating a law-and-order saga that's lasted nearly a decade, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher rejected a defense bid for a new trial and imposed the stiff sentence on Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique.

"I think he is a dangerous person," Fisher said. "I think he is a dangerous person to women, in particular, and I think he will remain one for a long time."

Chandra's mother, Susan Levy, drove the point home, with a firmly delivered victim's impact statement that she directed, at times, right at Guandique.

"You, Mr. Guandique, you are lower than a cockroach," Levy said.

At the end of her 16-minute statement, in which she also read comments written by her son, Adam, and her husband, Robert, Levy turned to her daughter's killer and pointed at him.

"Finally, (expletive) you," Susan Levy said. "That is it."

Now 29, Guandique will be at least 80 before he becomes eligible for parole from federal prison. Fisher rejected prosecutors' request to deny any possibility of parole, raising the faint possibility that Guandique will die outside of prison.

"This might be a life sentence," Fisher acknowledged. "In all likelihood, it will be a life sentence."

Manacled and dressed in an orange jumpsuit, Guandique showed little emotion during most of the 90-minute sentencing hearing. When given a chance to speak, though, he appeared to rub tears from his eyes before protesting his innocence.

"I am sorry, I am very sorry for what happened to (Chandra)," Guandique said, speaking through an interpreter, "but I had nothing to do with it. I am innocent."

Following a little more than three days of deliberations, the jury of three men and nine women on Nov. 22 had found Guandique guilty on two counts of first-degree felony murder.

The jury concluded Guandique had attacked Chandra on May 1, 2001, while she was walking or jogging in a remote reach of Washington's Rock Creek Park. The felony murder charge was formally predicated on a claim that Guandique was attempting to rob Levy, although prosecutors emphasized the possibility that the attack was sexual in nature.

Citing prison disciplinary records and other crimes, including several Guandique admitted to and others that were never proven in court, prosecutors had argued he was an implacable menace to society.

"Guandique has demonstrated predatory behavior that seems incapable of rehabilitation," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez wrote in an 18-page sentencing memo.

Defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo retorted with their own sentencing memo of more than 11 pages, in which they cited a violent, impoverished upbringing as well as learning and psychological problems.

"He grew up without running water or electricity ... and he suffers from a number of different afflictions," Sonenberg said.

A former defense attorney, appointed to the D.C. Superior Court bench by President Bill Clinton in 2001, Fisher had also overseen preliminary proceedings in the Levy case for more than a year before the trial began.

Levy had just turned 24 when she disappeared. She had finished her University of Southern California graduate studies and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship and was planning to take a May 5 Amtrak train back home to California's San Joaquin Valley, trial testimony revealed.

Levy was also sexually involved with then-congressman Gary Condit, trial evidence and testimony graphically confirmed. Early speculation about her shadowy relationship with the much-older politician had helped make Levy's disappearance a news sensation in the first place.

An uncomfortable-looking Condit testified that he had nothing to do with Levy's death, but the judge also permitted him to stiff-arm questions about the exact nature of his affair with Levy.

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

Prosecutors also didn't get a chance to cross-examine Guandique, who listened to the translated trial proceedings through a headset.

Of the 40 prosecution witnesses, only former Fresno Bulldogs gang member Alberto Morales directly connected Guandique to Levy. A one-time cellmate, Morales testified that Guandique confessed the killing to him.

Morales, currently scheduled to be released in 2016, is not currently in federal Bureau of Prisons custody, according to the agency's inmate locator. During the Levy trial, he was said to be "in transit." It is not yet known which federal prison Guandique will be dispatched to; previously, he was serving his sentence on other charges at U.S. Penitentiary Victorville, on the unforgivably hot margins of California's Mojave Desert.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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