Courts & Crime

Guandique confessed to killing Chandra Levy, inmate testifies

WASHINGTON _ A prison inmate testified Thursday that Ingmar Guandique confessed to killing former Modesto resident Chandra Levy.

Armando Morales, a founding member of the Fresno Bulldogs criminal gang, said he was sharing a federal prison cell with Guandique in 2006 when Guandique told him of Levy’s 2001 murder.

“He said, ‘Homeboy, I killed that bitch, but I didn’t rape her,"” Morales said.

Guandique further told Morales that he hadn’t meant to kill Levy but that she died in a robbery gone bad, according to Morales.

“He said, ‘I never meant to kill her,’” Morales testified.

Morales said Guandique confided in him because of their shared gang alliances and because Guandique feared being thought of as a rapist by other inmates. Rapists are ill-treated in prison, Morales explained.

His own life could now be in danger as a result of testifying, Morales said. He still has another six years to serve on his current prison sentence, and he testified Thursday while shackled and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit.

“I know by my testimony today I’m putting myself in harm’s way,” Morales said.

The balding, 49-year-old Morales is one of several prison informants prosecutors have said will be called to testify against Guandique. The trial will enter its third week Wednesday, following several additional days off. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said she still has "three or four" witnesses to present.

Prosecutors say Guandique attacked the 24-year-old Levy on May 1, 2001, while she was jogging in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Prosecutors are relying on informants and circumstantial evidence, as they lack any DNA, fluid or fiber evidence connecting the 29-year-old Guandique to Levy’s death.

Defense attorneys, in turn, challenge the credibility of the witnesses they consistently characterize as “snitches” who are out to gain benefits from their cooperation with prosecutors.

“You’ve been pretty much locked up most of your life, right?” defense attorney Santha Sonenberg asked at the start of cross-examination.

“Yes,” said Morales, speaking in English.

The bespectacled, lucid-sounding sixth-grade dropout insisted, though, that he neither asked for nor expected any tangible benefits to arise from his cooperation with law enforcement. He described himself as a gang “dropout” who's trying to turn his life around.

“If any benefit comes out of this, it’s being able to come here and tell the truth,” Morales said. “That’s the only benefit.”

Morales is a career criminal, who said he helped start the feared Fresno Bulldogs gang and served as one of the gang's enforcers. He is currently serving a 21-year and 10-month sentence after pleading guilty to drug distribution charges. He's scheduled for release in 2016.

Morales said he came to know Guandique in August 2006, at U.S. Penitentiary Big Sandy in Kentucky. At the time, Guandique was serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park.

Morales said he initially was placed in a temporary housing “cage” next to Guandique, who went by the nickname “Chucky,” after the murderous movie doll.

“He had ‘Chucky’ tattooed on his back,” Morales said. “It was misspelled.”

Morales said he and Guandique bonded over their affiliation with certain gangs. Guandique invited Morales to share a prison cell with him, and they were cellmates for between four and six weeks.

The two men spent 22 or 23 hours a day in their cell, talking a lot, Morales said. He said Guandique was particularly concerned that other inmates think of him as a rapist, which led to their conversation about Levy. In several conversations, Morales said, Guandique spoke of attacking Levy and other women in Rock Creek Park.

Guandique said that he would hide in the bushes at Rock Creek Park, waiting for female hikers and joggers, Morales said. Then, Morales said, Guandique explained that he would “ambush” the passersby.

In a cellblock conversation recalled by Morales, Guandique told of having spotted Levy one day. He said Guandique recalled that Levy “was alone, and she had on one of those waist pouches, and he decided to rob her.”

“He was on drugs and needed money,” Morales said when asked what was motivating Guandique.

Morales testified that Guandique said he ran up behind Levy, who at the time was on Rock Creek Park’s Western Ridge Trail. Guandique said he then tried to drag Levy off of the trail. After a struggle, Morales testified, Guandique told him that Levy fell limp.

“He said by the time he dragged her to the bushes, she had stopped struggling,” Morales said.

Morales testified that he told another inmate what he had heard in 2008 and repeated his story in 2009 after seeing a CNN news account of the arrest of Guandique for Levy’s murder. Morales said he recognized his old cellmate “Chucky” and worked with another inmate to write a seven-page letter to the Justice Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines asked Morales what he thinks about Guandique now.

“I feel bad for him,” Morales said.