Courts & Crime

Prosecutors admit police botched Chandra Levy murder case

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors acknowledged Friday that police bungled parts of the initial investigation into the murder of Chandra Levy.

"It can be proven that there were missteps," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines conceded at a pretrial hearing, adding that "I can't begin to explain why things were done back in the day."

Haines further acknowledged that "clearly the defense is going to be able to show" that mistakes were made. Her concession anticipates a defense argument that will take center stage once the trial of accused killer Ingmar Guandique begins Oct. 18.

Guandique's defense attorneys will argue that the case against the tattooed Salvadoran immigrant has been fatally flawed from the start. Prosecutors will say that whatever initial investigative errors occurred following Levy's May 1, 2001 disappearance were corrected once the cold case was reopened by a new team.

Haines and her partner, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, came onto the Levy case after D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier assigned a new set of detectives in the spring of 2007.

Prosecutors charge Guandique with killing Levy during an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park. At the time, Levy had finished her graduate studies and a Bureau of Prisons internship and was reportedly preparing to return to California.

Levy was raised in Modesto, where her parents still live.

On Friday, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher ruled that Levy's mother, Susan, can attend the entire trial even though she might be called as a witness. An attorney from the D.C. Crime Victims Resource Center had made the request on Susan Levy's behalf, notwithstanding some potential concerns that Levy's own testimony might be shaped by what she hears.

"If one side or the other believes her presence in the courtroom will have an impact on her testimony, they can cross-examine her," Fisher reasoned.

Chandra Levy's disappearance attracted national attention after reports that she'd been having an affair with Modesto's then-congressman, Gary Condit. Though he lost his House seat eight years ago, and was never named as a suspect in Levy's death, Condit's name popped up again Friday as it has periodically throughout the pretrail maneuvering.

Guandique's defense attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, want to present testimony that Guandique willingly took a lie detector test given in February 2002. Sonenberg said Friday that she also wants to demonstrate that police didn't insist that everyone they talked to take a lie detector test, as a sign of haphazard police work.

"Mr. Condit was unwilling to take a Metropolitan Police Department polygraph examination," Sonenberg noted as an example, adding that Condit's attorney had instead arranged for a private polygraph test.

Condit passed his private lie detector test given by a retired FBI agent, his attorney Abbe Lowell, said at the time.

Fisher didn't rule Friday on whether the polygraph testimony will be allowed. He also didn't formally rule on a defense attempt to secure testimony from an academic expert on prison snitches, although he made clear he doubts that Loyola Law School Professor Alexandra Natapoff could offer "a real life understanding" of the case.

"I find a lot of problems with this particular effort to put on an expert witness," Fisher said. "I'm not sure there are opinions she can provide that are beyond the ken of the average layperson."

Fisher will formally rule on these and other remaining pretrial issues in a final hearing Thursday.

Related stories from McClatchy DC