Courts & Crime

In Chandra Levy case, defense attorneys seek dismissal of murder charges

In this April 22, 2009, photo, Ingmar Guandique is escorted from the Violent Crimes Unit in Washington. A judge has set a new trial date for the man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy.
In this April 22, 2009, photo, Ingmar Guandique is escorted from the Violent Crimes Unit in Washington. A judge has set a new trial date for the man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy. AP

Murder charges against the man convicted of killing former Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy should be dismissed because of prosecutorial errors, defense attorneys argue in new court filings.

Amid maneuvering before a second trial set to start in March, attorneys for Ingmar Guandique contend that his first trial, in 2010, was tainted by prosecutors’ failure to share crucial information with the defense. Dismissing the indictment would cure the legal problem, Guandique’s attorneys say.

“The government’s suppression of evidence relating to its star witness . . . before, during and after trial has created prejudice to Mr. Guandique for which there is no adequate remedy other than dismissal,” defense attorney Jonathan W. Anderson declared in a 114-page filing.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington declined to comment Tuesday, beyond referring to previous court filings in which prosecutors have rebutted defense claims.

Dated Dec. 11 but made available only Tuesday, the latest defense motion details what Guandique’s attorneys with the federal Public Defender Service have long maintained in numerous court hearings. In particular, the attorneys point to what prosecutors knew or should have known about the government’s key witness.

Former Fresno, Calif., gang leader Armando Morales testified compellingly in 2010 that Guandique had confessed to him that he’d killed Levy during an attempted robbery in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

Levy, a 24-year-old former Federal Bureau of Prisons intern, disappeared May 1, 2001, shortly before she was to return to her family’s home in Modesto, Calif. She was on the verge of obtaining a graduate degree from the University of Southern California.

Levy’s disappearance, and Guandique’s eventual trial nine years later, drew a national spotlight because of revelations that she had been having an affair with then-Democratic Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres, Calif. Levy’s remains were found in Rock Creek Park in 2002.

Morales, who insisted he had no prior experience cooperating with law enforcement, testified that Guandique had confessed to him while they were cellmates in U.S. Penitentiary Big Sandy in Kentucky. Prosecutors lacked eyewitnesses or forensic evidence tying Guandique to the crime, making the testimony by Morales especially potent.

Before the trial, a prosecutor wrote in a previously undisclosed memo cited in the defense filing, Morales confided that “snitching was not part of his culture.” The defense filing also noted what had happened at the grand jury, when a prosecutor asked Morales why he was nervous about coming forward to law enforcement.

“Because I’ve never done that before,” Morales told the grand jury, the defense filing recounted. “I’ve never done nothing like that.”

A jury subsequently convicted Guandique, and a judge sentenced him to 60 years.

Prosecutors are legally obliged to share with the defense information that’s potentially exculpatory or that casts doubts about witness credibility. But since 2012, D.C.-based prosecutors and defense attorneys have been discovering more about Morales’ career and prior assistance to law enforcement than was disclosed at the time.

“The documents and evidence would have established that important aspects of Morales’ testimony were false,” Anderson wrote, adding that “Morales had a powerful motive to fabricate testimony: a desire for safety from enemies who wanted him dead.”

Citing information uncovered after Guandique’s first trial, Anderson further described Morales as a career criminal whose “life has been defined by crossing and double-crossing various gang members and law enforcement agencies in an effort to further his various agenda.”

Morales’ prior record of cooperation, not discussed during Guandique’s first trial, included talking with detectives with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office as well as FBI agents and prison gang investigators.

The revelations caused dissension among trial prosecutors, according to Anderson, with some allegedly fighting against disclosure. Several days before the prosecutors were scheduled to testify about what they knew, the government last May abruptly dropped its objections to a new trial.

“The government has thus far avoided presenting testimony on this topic,” Anderson wrote.

If the judge does not agree to dismiss charges against Guandique, defense attorneys say an alternative could be to deny Morales the opportunity to testify at the second trial. That would be a serious blow to the prosecutors’ case, and it’s an option Morales himself might opt for if he chooses to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10