Courts & Crime

Levy defendant wrote about 'dead girl,' pen pal says

WASHINGTON _The man accused of killing Chandra Levy told a prison pen pal that some thought him responsible for a “muchacha muerta” _ a dead girl _ according to disputed testimony Tuesday afternoon.

The pen pal, Miami resident Maria Mendez, said Ingmar Guandique wrote her out of the blue in 2003. At the time, Guandique was in federal prison on charges unrelated to Levy’s 2001 death.

“He told me his down and outs, his life, his deeds, his predicaments, his behavior,“ Mendez said.

Included in Guandique’s two-and-a-half page letter, Mendez said, was a listing of bad things he had done or was accused of doing. Mendez said the list included “muchacha muerta,” though without any further explanation. Mendez, though she regularly wrote prisoners, said she wanted nothing more to do with Guandique.

“I didn’t feel safe," Mendez said, adding that "I was afraid of him because of the dead girl.”

On cross-examination, though, Mendez acknowledged that she didn't remember exactly what Guandique wrote her, and she conceded that he never admitted to murder. Mendez also admitted she continued corresponding with Guandique even after she said she was afraid of him.

"Write me soon, I miss your little letters," Mendez wrote Guandique in October 2003, about six months after his "muchacha muerta" letter.

Appearing on the sixth day of trial, Mendez was the first witness to try to directly connect Guandique to Levy's murder. Prosecutors say Guandique killed the 24-year-old Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

Earlier Tuesday, an FBI scientist testified that he found no hair or fiber evidence connecting Guandique to Chandra Levy.

Though called as a prosecution witness, FBI senior scientist Cary Oien acknowledged under cross-examination that he couldn’t forensically link Guandique to Levy. Oien said “there were no fibers” tying the two together.

Defense attorneys seized on this to challenge prosecutors’ claims that Guandique grappled with Levy on the day of her 2001 murder.

“When there is no transfer of material, one possibility is that the two individuals never came into contact,” defense attorney Maria Hawilo noted.

Prosecutors, though, insisted that the absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of innocence.

“If somebody comes up to you and grabs you by the neck, it’s possible no fibers will be left,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said.

Oien agreed that was possible.

Haines further noted that the blue baseball cap, shorts and “El Salvador” T-shirt that police seized from Guandique for testing were taken on July 1, and were not necessarily what Guandique was wearing on the day Levy died.

Prosecutors say that Guandique killed Levy during an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001. They already have acknowledged that neither DNA nor other physical evidence connects the Salvadoran immigrant to the crime.

The scientific testimony by Oien and Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist David Hunt on Tuesday morning lacked the explicit drama of Monday’s testimony by former California congressman Gary Condit. Still, it carried a certain emotional wallop.

During two hours on the stand Monday, Condit denied having anything to do with Levy’s murder but repeatedly refused to answer questions about the exact nature of his relationship with the much younger former intern. Haines has already told jurors that Condit “had an affair” with Levy, which is something the 62-year-old Condit was unwilling to publicly acknowledge in court.

Chandra’s mother, Susan Levy, sat in the courtroom Monday throughout Condit’s testimony. On Tuesday, though, she largely stayed out of the courtroom while Oien and Hunt described their analysis of her daughter’s skeletal remains.

“Animals had been feeding and chewing on some of the bones,” Hunt said at one point.

At other times, Hunt used a laser pointer to identify specific parts of Chandra Levy’s skull, pelvis and other bones. He said he was able to determine that Levy had apparently undergone a rhinoplasty procedure to correct a deviated septum, and her bones showed evidence of exercise.

Police recovered Levy’s black panties, tights, red sports bra and gray T-shirt, among other items, in Rock Creek Park. Oien testified he was able to match some of the hair found on the clothes to hair, some of it artificially treated, taken from one of Levy’s combs.

Lab technicians identified about a dozen human cells on the tights, but they have not been able to identify their source. Prosecutors suggest the cells represent contamination after the tights were collected for evidence, while defense attorneys want to suggest the cells are evidence of the real killer.

Prosecutors have stated previously that DNA found on Levy’s bra actually came from a private lab technician who allowed the evidence to become contaminated.

Levy’s tights, like her underwear, were found inside out. The legs were tied in two overhand knots, which Oien demonstrated using a spare pair of tights and Haines' right arm.

“I am not a knot expert,” Oien cautioned.

Prosecutors have not yet specifically described how they believe the knots were using during the alleged assault on the 24-year-old Levy. One of their later witnesses, though, is scheduled to be a prison inmate who says Guandique raped him after first tying up his legs.

Susan Levy returned to the courtroom once the vivid forensic testimony was concluded. She heard prosecutors play five clips of a taped conversation between Mendez and Guandique in April 2003. It was the first time Guandique’s voice had been definitely heard by the jurors and other courtroom spectators.

The conversation was in Spanish, and no translation was immediately provided. At times, though, it could be understood that Mendez, now 48, was telling Guandique that she was nearly old enough to be his mother, and she asked him not to call her again.

At one point, Guandique began to cry.

"It had an undertone of sadness," Mendez said of Guandique's letters.