Defense attorneys seek retrial in Chandra Levy murder case

Posted by Michael Doyle on November 6, 2013 

Attorneys for the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy formally asked for a new trial Wednesday, citing new revelations about the key prosecution witness.

After months of hearings, defense attorneys representing Ingmar Guandique said a new trial is needed because the Justice Department failed to disclose critical information about former Fresno gang member Armando Morales.

A one-time leader in the Fresno Bulldogs gang, Morales testified during trial that Guandique, a former cellmate, had confessed to killing Levy. Long after Guandique's trial ended, it was discovered that Morales had previously snitched to law enforcement on other occasions.

"What we're going to be trying to show is the federal prosecutors knew, or should have known, this information about Mr. Morales," defense attorney Jonathan Anderson said during a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

A judge will determine whether a new trial is warranted, following a hearing that's likely to be held next year. A new trial, if one is ordered, probably wouldn't occur until at least 2015, defense attorneys say.

In the meantime, though, Justice Department lawyers and defense attorneys alike have been scurrying for documents and witnesses that can shed light on what prosecutors knew about Morales and when they knew it.

"We are spending countless hours trying to track down the information," Justice Department attorney David Gorman said, adding ruefully that "there are lots of layers of bureaucracy to go through."

Sorting through numerous defense requests during the two-plus hour hearing Wednesday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher gave the Justice Department 10 days to find out from Fresno-area investigators the status of three murder investigations in which Morales had allegedly provided information. For many months, the Justice Department has said certain documents can't be provided because the investigations remain open.

"We haven't heard from them in quite some time," Fisher said of the Fresno investigators.

Defense attorneys want to find out more about the information Morales reportedly provided concerning the three Fresno-area murders from the 1990s, as well as about the concerns officials may have had about his credibility in those earlier cases.

The November 2010 testimony of Morales was essential in linking Guandique to Levy's death in Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Levy's death occurred shortly before she was to return to her family's Modesto, Calif. home, and her disappearance drew national attention following revelations that she had been having an affair with then-Rep. Gary Condit.

Following his conviction on first-degree murder charges, Guandique was sentenced to 60 years in prison. On Wednesday, he appeared in court wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, flanked by several U.S. Marshals. He listened to the proceedings through a headset that carried an English-to-Spanish translation, and did not speak except briefly to his attorneys.

The four publicly funded defense attorneys that accompanied Guandique at the hearing are basing their request for a new trial, in part, on alleged Justice Department violations of the so-called Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to share potentially exculpatory information.

One specific question to be answered in the upcoming hearing is whether the Washington, D.C.-based prosecutors who used Morales as a witness against Guandique should have been alerted to Morales's complete background by the Fresno-based federal prosecutors who investigated Morales during the 1990s.

"We believe there was a Brady violation that requires a new trial," Anderson said.

But even securing information from within the same department has proven a hassle, Gorman acknowledged. At one point, he said Wednesday, the Justice Department's own Marshal's Service cited "Privacy Act" considerations in declining to provide Justice Department attorneys certain documents about Morales.

The next hearing in the long-running case is set for early January.

"There does come a time," Fisher said, "when I do come up for retirement."








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