WASHINGTON — Susan Levy stood next to her daughter's killer. She was close enough to spit on him.
Instead, for the first and presumably last time, Susan used her gestures, her voice and her eyes to directly confront convicted murderer Ingmar Guandique. During 16 painfully gripping minutes, she told him how he had sundered a family when he killed Chandra Levy.
"How can you take my daughter's life away?" Susan asked, looking directly at Guandique. "Did you really take her? I ask you that, right now. Look me in my eyes, and tell me."
Guandique looked up from the defense table and seemed to shake his head slightly. He was hard to read, though. Described as having a "very low IQ" and serious emotional problems, Guandique sometimes seemed absent from his own trial.
Susan Levy was present Friday, very much so. So, in a manner of speaking, were her husband, Robert, and son, Adam. Both wrote out statements, which Susan read before she read her own.
She did not cry. She did not shout. She did not hesitate, in denouncing the man she called "lower than a cockroach" and a "hideous creature." Her husband and her son were equally venomous.
"Ultimately, the punishment for this crime will always be inadequate," Robert Levy wrote. "May he receive an adequate punishment in the next life, and rot in hell."
"When it hits you," Adam Levy wrote, "it hits you like a brick. It's a nightmare, from which you can never wake up."
"This is February, a time of love," Susan Levy wrote, but "this heart of mine is broken and fractured because of your actions."
A 1994 federal law permits victims of violent crimes to speak at sentencing hearings; states have similar laws. Susan Levy qualifies under the law, as the mother of one who was slain.
Susan had previously attended nearly every moment of Guandique's trial late last year, and she was in the courtroom on Nov. 22 when the jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree felony murder. The jury agreed with prosecutors that Guandique had killed the 24-year-old Chandra while she was walking or jogging in Washington's Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001.
In the two-and-a-half months since the verdict, court officials and defense experts alike have taken their turns investigating Guandique's background, mental status and future prospects as a prelude to sentencing. Throughout, Susan Levy has kept out of the public eye. On Friday, she thanked reporters for not bothering her in the meantime.
"It was hard for me to find myself," she said.
Defense attorneys said the post-trial investigation showed the 29-year-old Guandique "thinks and acts like a 10-year-old." They said "horrible things" had been done to him when he was younger, leaving him irrevocably scarred. They asked for the minimum sentence of 30 years.
Prosecutors retorted that 10-year-olds don't stalk and attack women. They said Guandique's brother was likewise raised in impoverished El Salvador, and he turned out to be a law-abiding U.S. resident. They asked for life in prison without possibility of parole.
The Levy family members undertook their own investigations, looking within for the words to fathom the inexpressible depths of their sorrow and rage.
Robert Levy questioned what sort of God would allow innocence to be slaughtered. Adam Levy said he "lost a couple of years" following his sister's death. Susan Levy turned to poetry — "there is no sun/I have nowhere to run" — and to one well-placed swear word.
Susan wore a red beret and purple ribbon to court Friday. She took the beret off when it was time to speak. She put her glasses on, standing at the podium that separated the defense and prosecution tables. She spoke her truth, a still-bleeding wound.
"I can't forgive you," Susan Levy told Ingmar Guandique. "I will let the higher power do that instead."