Courts & Crime

Jury selection continues in Chandra Levy murder trial

WASHINGTON _ Jury selection concludes Thursday in the trial of the man accused of killing Chandra Levy, after questioning that covered everything from former California congressman Gary Condit to immigration and the castration of gangsters.

A judge dismissed several dozen potential jurors Wednesday, several because of their stated dislike for illegal immigrants. This matters, because accused killer Ingmar Guandique entered the United States illegally from his native El Salvador.

“(One potential juror) is opposed to illegal immigrants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said, “and he thinks Ingmar Guandique should be killed.”

Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher dismissed that potential juror, along with another individual who Haines said “gave some rather bizarre responses” in explaining attitudes toward immigrants. Yet another potential juror was dismissed after she described illegal immigrants as “horrible.”

The dismissed potential jurors were among 81 who had otherwise passed the first round of voir dire Monday. Fisher can dismiss an unlimited number of potential jurors for cause, while prosecutors and defense attorneys will each have 14 peremptory challenges.

The attorneys will exercise their peremptory challenges Thursday afternoon, once 43 or 44 potential jurors have been seated following further questioning by Fisher. The final jury will consist of 16 members, four of them alternates.

Opening statements are now expected Monday.

Defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo posed at least one question Wednesday that hinted at how they may raise doubts about Guandique's guilt, when a potential juror indicated unhappiness over how the media paid so much attention to Levy’s relationship with Condit.

“They just latched onto one person, and ignored all the other people,” the potential juror said. “I just got sick about it.”

Hawilo then posed a follow-up.

“What if there was evidence that Gary Condit may have been involved?” Hawilo asked.

The potential juror indicated she would try to keep an open mind, and the defense attorneys did not elaborate on the Condit issue.

Citing a hypothetical possibility, Fisher asked another juror whether she would listen neutrally "if one side or the other suggested Mr. Condit had some involvement" in the case. The juror said she would "be open" to considering the possibility.

Detectives never identified Condit as a suspect, and he has steadfastly denied any involvement in Levy’s disappearance. With varying success, he also filed a number of defamation lawsuits against tabloid newspapers and commentators who have suggested otherwise.

Prosecutors have said the former Modesto-based congressman may be called to testify on their behalf, and Condit’s attorney, Bert Fields, says Condit will testify fully and truthfully if he is called.

Prosecutors say Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. At the time, Levy had finished graduate studies and a Bureau of Prisons internship and was reportedly preparing to return to California.

Levy’s parents, Susan and Robert, still live in Modesto, where she was raised. Susan Levy has received the judge’s permission to attend the trial, though she hasn’t appeared during the jury selection proceedings.

The jurors dismissed for cause have been let go for reasons ranging from unavoidable work conflicts to personal sentiments that might infect judgment. Guandique’s illegal immigrant status has been a particular focus, along with his alleged membership in the feared MS-13 gang.

“(One juror) believes all gang members should be castrated,” Haines said, adding drily that “it was spelled wrong.”

The judge let that particular individual go.

Guandique listened to the translated proceedings through a headset. He wore a gray suit and a white turtleneck that covered his neck tattoos.

Nine reporters sat in a separate room Wednesday, listening to the questioning of potential jurors.

The trial will not be broadcast, and unlike at some trials reporters are prohibited from operating electronic devices in the courtroom.