Courts & Crime

Chandra Levy's father tells court of his suspicions about Condit

Chandra Levy
Chandra Levy MCT

WASHINGTON -- Chandra Levy’s father recounted Tuesday his furious suspicions that former California congressman Gary Condit was implicated in his daughter’s murder.

In a surprise trial appearance, Dr. Robert Levy told jurors that he and his wife, Susan, once considered Condit "the primary suspect” in Chandra Levy’s 2001 murder. The Modesto-based oncologist cited the “suspicious circumstances” surrounding his daughter’s affair with the married congressman.

Levy said his rage may have led him to tell police stories for which he had no direct proof, including allegations that Chandra had a “five-year plan” to marry Condit or to move in with him.

“We were so mad at Condit that we would say anything that came to mind, to point to him as a villain,” Levy said.

Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher, though, blocked defense attorneys from probing some specific allegations, and some of the statements blurted out by the 64-year-old Levy were stricken from the trial's formal record.

"We were thinking Condit was guilty (until) we learned of this character here," Levy said at one point, referring to accused killer Ingmar Guandique.

Prosecutors summoned Levy on the second day of Guandique's trial. An illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Guandique is charged with killing Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

Susan Levy sat in the back of the courtroom during her husband's testimony. Wearing a blue sport coat and green shirt, without a tie, Dr. Levy largely remained composed during roughly 45 minutes on the stand Tuesday afternoon.

Defense attorney Santha Sonenberg pressed Levy repeatedly, though not always successfully, to recall that he previously told investigators that Chandra did not like to jog or hike. Sonenberg's intention was to cast into doubt the prosecution's theory that Levy was attacked while jogging on a hilly trail.

Earlier Tuesday, 35-year-old attorney Christy Wiegand told jurors that Guandique jumped her in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. The July 1, 2001 assault took place two months after Levy disappeared in the same park.

“He grabbed me from behind and he held a knife to my face,” Wiegand said in a strong, steady voice. “He brutally attacked me, and he dragged me to an isolated place.”

Wiegand’s testimony followed the appearance Monday of Halle Shilling, who was also attacked by Guandique in Rock Creek Park. Guandique eventually pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in the two assaults, for which he is now completing a 10-year federal prison sentence.

Prosecutors stressed Tuesday that both attacks bore the hallmarks of a sexual assault rather than a robbery. Wiegand told Haines that neither her engagement ring nor other belongings were taken by Guandique.

Prosecutors summoned both Wiegand and Shilling to help make the circumstantial case against Guandique. Prosecutors say Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Rock Creek Park.

The disappearance of the 24-year-old Levy quickly became a national sensation in 2001 following speculation and then revelations about her relationship with Condit.

On Tuesday, a District of Columbia detective testified that “we were looking” at Condit as a potential suspect in the early weeks following Levy’s disappearance. That focus ultimately caused multiple problems both for the investigation and for individual careers, prosecutors and witnesses say.

Ronald Wyatt, a detective-sergeant who was the original case supervisor, testified Tuesday that Condit falsely advised him in May 2001 that he was not romantically entangled with Levy. Wyatt said he went to Condit’s Washington condo about a week after Levy’s disappearance and asked him directly about whether he was intimately involved with the younger woman.

“He was a bit arrogant, and not forthright,” Wyatt recalled, adding that “he led us to believe that (the relationship) was superficial.”

Condit, who lost his House seat in 2002, no longer denies his relationship with Levy was sexual in nature. Prosecutors say he could be summoned as a trial witness.

Wyatt said he eventually concluded that “the investigation was becoming too focused on the congressman,” and he said police department leaders were putting too much pressure on detectives as a result of the media attention. He testified that when he urged department leaders to stop the “second guessing,” he was removed as supervising detective.

A new team of investigators eventually was brought in after Levy’s disappearance was declared a cold case. Much of their case resolves around Guandique’s involvement in other Rock Creek Park crimes.

Wiegand testified Tuesday that Guandique followed her for about a mile on a remote, wooded trail in Rock Creek Park before he jumped on her at the top of a hill, when she was winded.

“He held a knife to my cheek, and put his hand to my mouth,” Wiegand said. “I was screaming as much as I could against his hand. I was screaming ‘No’ and ‘Help’ (but) my screams were muffled.”

Standing nearly six feet tall, and weighing 175 pounds, the athletic-looking Wiegand is notably bigger than Guandique. She said she seemed to get the upper hand for a moment when she relaxed and then redoubled her fighting effort after tumbling down a hillside with Guandique. Several minutes after the assault began, Wiegand said, Guandique ran away.

Defense attorneys spent little time cross-examining Wiegand, who unlike Shilling never broke into tears on the witness stand.

A 24-year-old former Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy was notably smaller than either Wiegand or Shilling. She was, however, physically fit. A former manager at the Washington Sports Club, where Levy was a member, testified Tuesday that he saw Levy working out up to four times a week.

The former membership manager, Minos George Nicolas, saw Levy on the night of April 30, 2001, when she came in to cancel her membership. Nicolas is the last person _ other than her killer _ known to have seen Levy alive.

“She was cheerful,” Nicolas said. “She was glad to be going back home.”