Courts & Crime

Susan Levy asks to attend trial of daughter's accused killer

WASHINGTON — The mother of murdered intern Chandra Levy is asking a judge's permission to attend the trial of the accused killer.

In a new legal filing, Modesto resident Susan Levy states she wants the opportunity to be in the courtroom "for the entire trial," set to start Oct. 4. She requires permission to watch because she could also be called to testify.

"I'm a mother," Susan Levy explained in a telephone interview Friday. "As hard as it's going to be, it's something a mother has to do."

Witnesses are customarily barred from the courtroom so their testimony isn't tainted by what they hear.

"However, since Mrs. Levy is a crime victim, (this prohibition) does not apply to her as a witness," attorney Jani Tillery noted in a filing made on Levy's behalf.

Tillery is with the District of Columbia Crime Victims Resource Center, whose attorneys must navigate on their clients' behalf some complicated legal and emotional shoals. The challenges become more profound in a high-profile case like the death of Chandra Levy.

Raised in Modesto, Chandra Levy had recently finished her University of Southern California graduate studies and a Bureau of Prisons internship when she disappeared May 1, 2001. The case drew national attention following revelations that she was having an affair with then-congressman Gary Condit.

Chandra Levy's skeletal remains were found a year later in Washington's Rock Creek Park, but the investigation stalled. Investigators eventually resurrected the cold case and prosecutors have charged illegal Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique with attempted sexual assault and first-degree murder.

Attorneys are preparing for a trial expected to last about five weeks in D.C. Superior Court, which is under federal jurisdiction.

Federal rules of evidence state that witnesses are typically sequestered. The rule, though, includes certain exceptions including those "authorized by statute" to remain present in the courtroom.

The Crime Victim's Rights Act of 2004 states that victims have "the right not to be excluded" from the trial unless the judge deems it "highly likely" that it would alter testimony. Parents or legal guardians can count as victims in murder cases, under the law.

"A mere possibility that a victim-witness may alter his or her own testimony as a result of hearing others testify is ... insufficient to justify excluding him or her from trial," Tillery argued in an Aug. 27 legal filing, citing a previous ruling by the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 9th Circuit case involved the trial of men charged with kidnapping and murdering five individuals in the Los Angeles area. The trial judge had blocked family members from attending until after they had testified.

Securing the right to attend the trial, though, doesn't necessarily mean the family members will sit through the entire ordeal.

"I don't think I want to be there when they go into the pictures and the forensic evidence," Susan Levy said. "I don't think that would be healthy."

Levy further suggested that she might "have to wear sunglasses and a hat" to prevent jurors from seeing her own enduring grief.