Prison snitching, missing emails and some long-forgotten Fresno, Calif.-area crimes might captivate a D.C. courtroom audience this week during a high-stakes hearing to determine whether the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy gets a new trial.
Four years to the month since a jury found Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique guilty, his fate is back in the hands of his original trial judge. This time, though, the pressing question revolves around the former Fresno gang leader whose testimony put Guandique away.
During three days starting Wednesday, an array of witnesses from Florida, California and beyond will zero in on Armando Morales. Morales testified compellingly that Guandique had confessed to him while they were cellmates at a federal prison in Kentucky. Well after the trial concluded, Morales’ own record as a law enforcement informant came to light.
“The issue we have here,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher summed up at a hearing last week, “is Mr. Morales, and what was known or should have been known about him by the U.S. attorney’s office.”
Further complicating the picture, Fisher noted, is the recent discovery that “there may be deleted emails” to and from prosecutors during crucial points of the pretrial preparations. Justice Department and defense attorneys are now trying to reconstruct the record.
“We don’t know what could have been deleted,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alessio D. Evangelista said, adding that the number of lost emails “could be incredibly small.”
Morales, now serving out his sentence at an undisclosed location, is slated to appear at follow-up hearings scheduled for February.
The hearings are the latest chapter, and a potential plot-shifter, in the long-running Levy saga. A 24-year-old former Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy disappeared May 1, 2001, shortly before she was to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home from Washington.
Levy’s disappearance, and Guandique’s eventual trial, attracted considerable national attention because of revelations that she had been having an affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit. Levy’s remains were found in Washington’s Rock Creek Park in 2002.
The hearings starting this week also culminate nearly two years of post-trial maneuvering that began when D.C.-based prosecutors say they learned more about Morales’ past in 2012. Morales was not publicly identified as a potential problem witness until July 2013.
Morales had served prison time for various crimes when he was prosecuted in 1996 on drugs and weapons charges after an undercover investigation by federal agents and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Morales was initially charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and crack cocaine, as well as being a felon in possession of firearms.
He eventually pleaded guilty to several felonies. He is scheduled to be released in 2016.
The Fresno-based federal prosecutor who put Morales behind bars, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawrence “Duce” Rice, is set to testify this week, as is Rice’s colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin P. Rooney.
Rice, Rooney and a handful of current and former FBI special agents, along with a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special agent formerly based in Fresno, will face questions about Morales’ past as a criminal and as a snitch.
Morales’ prior record of cooperating with law enforcement matters, because his assertion that he wasn’t used to informing had strengthened his credibility as a witness. The government’s missing emails cover the time when D.C.-based prosecutors were dealing with Morales. If they had known about his past cooperation, they would have been obliged to share the information with Guandique’s defense team.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” defense attorney Joshua Deahl said at last week’s hearing. “There are enormous gaps in what has been produced. All of it was in the government’s possession, and they let it slip through their fingers.”
The unknown number of emails were apparently lost when the Justice Department began in July 2013 automatically deleting emails more than three years old unless a special legal order was in place, a step that seemed to fall through the cracks.