WASHINGTON — Chandra Levy’s accused killer appeared with a scratched and beaten face on or about the night of her murder, an acquaintance testified Wednesday.
Accused killer Ingmar Guandique told the acquaintance that he had had a fight with his girlfriend. Prosecutors, though, suggest Guandique’s face hinted at a lethal crime.
“He had some cuts on his face,” acquaintance Sheila Phillips recalled Wednesday morning, when asked about the 2001 encounter. “His lip was fat, and he had some scratches on his neck.”
Phillips said the episode occurred one night during “the first week of May” in 2001. Prosecutors say Guandique attacked the 24-year-old Levy in Washington’s Rock Creek Park sometime during the day of May 1, 2001. He killed the former Modesto resident during an attempted sexual assault, prosecutors say.
Phillips, though, faced stiff cross-examination by defense attorney Santha Sonenberg, who sought to show that the apartment property manager has been inconsistent in her recollections.
Her tone occasionally sharp, Sonenberg pointed out that Phillips once told defense investigators that the night she saw Guandique with a scratched face was probably in mid- or late-April 2001, before Levy’s murder.
“You’ve said a lot of different things about when (Guandique) came to the apartment,” Sonenberg noted.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys grappled and objected throughout the third day of trial Wednesday, requiring frequent breaks while D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher sorted things out.
Witnesses, too, sometimes struggled with their own recollections of events and conversations that occurred up to nine years ago. Guandique's former girlfriend Iris Portillo, for instance, was able to vividly recall what happened once when Guandique grew jealous of her being absent.
"He got mad at me and punched me the nose," said Portillo, a native of El Salvador who stands 4 feet and 11 inches tall.
At another time in 2001, Portillo said Guandique came home with scratches on his chest. He told her he'd been robbed. Portillo repeatedly failed to remember, however, precise timing of some events as well as conversations with Guandique she had once told a grand jury about.
Guandique starting in 2000 lived in an apartment building managed by Phillips. For a while, he had lived with the uncle of Phillips’ boyfriend, who is now her husband. Guandique later moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, who lived in the same building.
On Wednesday, Phillips recalled two occasions where Guandique called at night in need of a temporary place to stay. On both occasions, she said, Guandique explained that he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend, Iris Portillo.
The first time Guandique called was in mid- or late-April 2001. Phillips said he seemed upset when he showed up. He stayed one or two nights, and then moved back in with his girlfriend.
“He said they had a physical altercation, that she had attacked him,” Phillips said, adding that “he said he had not hit her.”
The second time Guandique needed a place to stay was the first week of May 2001. Phillips said she didn't ask about the marks on his face.
Several weeks later, Phillips testified, a workman at the apartment where Guandique had been staying discovered a batch of his clothes. The clothing was thrown away. Though not discussed Wednesday, some of this clothing is suspected to have shown further evidence of violence.
Levy’s mother, Susan, a Modesto resident, was again in the courtroom Wednesday. Levy’s father, Robert, who testified Tuesday, was not present. Susan Levy had to listen early Wednesday afternoon as prosecutors played a tape of the phone call that took place when a hiker found Chandra Levy’s remains.
Philip Palmer, a 50-year-old cabinetmaker, testified that he was walking his dog Paco across the steep hills of Rock Creek Park on May 22, 2002. He was looking for turtle shells.
“I saw a white piece of bone that looked like a turtle (shell), only it wasn’t,” Palmer said. “I found a skull.”
Palmer called police, whose subsequent behavior he termed “appalling”
“They traipsed all around, picking things up and saying, ‘Look what I found,’” Palmer said. “I found it very unprofessional.”