WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the man convicted of killing former intern Chandra Levy formally made their case for a new trial Tuesday, citing serious problems with the prosecution’s key witness.
Capping a post-trial investigation that’s lasted for more than a year, defense attorneys declared that one-time Fresno gang leader Armando Morales lied to cover up his past as a prison snitch. The deceit, defense attorneys said in a lengthy court filing, spuriously boosted Morales’s credibility.
Morales’s testimony that Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique confessed while they were prison cellmates proved the lynchpin against Guandique, who was convicted in November 2010 of Levy’s murder.
“Without Morales,” defense attorney Jonathan W. Anderson wrote, “the government had no case.”
Guandique killed Levy in Washington’s Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001 shortly before the 24-year-old former Bureau of Prisons intern was to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home, a jury concluded. Guandique is now serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Her disappearance drew national attention with the rumors, later confirmed by prosecutors, that Levy had a relationship with then-Democratic Congressman Gary Condit of California. Her skeletal remains were found in the park in 2002. Condit, who was never charged, lost his re-election bid that same year.
At the time of her disappearance, the 24-year-old Levy had finished a University of Southern California graduate program and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship.
While testifying against Guandique, Morales had cast himself as someone unaccustomed to cooperating with law enforcement officials. But in late 2012, Justice Department officials say they learned for the first time that Morales had at least some prior record of cooperation.
In his 84-page brief filed Tuesday, Anderson, Guandique’s attorney, elaborated that prosecutors failed to meet their legal obligation to correct testimony they knew to be false or misleading. The obligation is akin to the requirement that prosecutors share potentially exculpatory information with the defense.
“Morales provided testimony that was false in material aspects, and the prosecutors had evidence showing it to be false,” Anderson declared. “The prosecutors also should have known much more about Morales’s false and misleading testimony.”
Morales, for instance, testified that he decided to change his life and come clean after a Christmas 2008 visit with his family, which he said was the first in 14 years. Defense attorneys subsequently discovered that his mother had visited him five times within a two-month period in 2006 while Morales was temporarily incarcerated at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater, north of Fresno.
Federal prosecutors countered in a statement Tuesday that “it was the U.S. Attorney’s Office that initially brought the current issues involving Mr. Morales to the attention of the court and defense counsel.”
“The ongoing proceedings involve just one of numerous government witnesses who testified against Mr. Guandique, including other women whom Mr. Guandique stalked or violently attacked,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia stated. “It is premature to cast doubt on Mr. Morales’s credibility before he has an opportunity to address the defense’s speculation and conjecture.”
A three-day hearing set to begin Oct. 14 will feature witnesses who could range from Morales to the prosecutors who relied upon him, as well as the Fresno-based prosecutor who originally put him away on weapons charges in 1996.
At the hearing, Guandique’s federal Public Defenders Service attorneys will elaborate on their theme that prosecutors falsely cast Morales as a reluctant witness uncomfortable with law enforcement.
“I still had a thug mentality, you know,” Morales declared during the Guandique trial. “I still subscribed to them false philosophies of ‘you don’t tell.’”
Post-trial investigations revealed, however, that starting in 1994, Morales had provided gang-related information to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Corrections and the FBI, among others.
The post-trial investigations also shed more light on Morales’s at-times complicated gang affiliations, which included membership in the Fresno Bulldogs, as well as leadership of a splinter faction called Bulldog Nation.
Defense attorneys say the Justice Department prosecutors should have known about the information on Morales held by myriad Justice Department agencies, including the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons.
“What the prosecutors in this case knew about Morales required them to make inquiries of the (Department of Justice) law enforcement agencies that knew him best,” Anderson stated.
But Justice Department attorneys, in previous post-trial hearings, have periodically noted their own difficulty in getting information from sister agencies.
“It’s an imperfect, and very, very difficult process,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman said in March, when talking about getting prison files. “The government cannot simply snap its fingers.”