Courts & Crime

Defense attorneys drag Gary Condit back into Chandra Levy case

In this April 22, 2009, photo, Ingmar Guandique is escorted from the Violent Crimes Unit in Washington. His conviction in the death of Chandra Levy was vacated, and his retrial is scheduled to begin March 1.
In this April 22, 2009, photo, Ingmar Guandique is escorted from the Violent Crimes Unit in Washington. His conviction in the death of Chandra Levy was vacated, and his retrial is scheduled to begin March 1. AP

Defense attorneys are aggressively investigating former California Congressman Gary Condit as they prepare for a retrial in the Chandra Levy murder case.

Throughout a court hearing Wednesday, attorneys repeatedly invoked Condit’s name while they pressed prosecutors to turn over material involving the former lawmaker. They are seeking everything from FBI interview notes to a photograph of Condit that Levy allegedly kept on her desk at work.

“We would love to know that we had the entire Gary Condit file,” defense attorney Eugene Ohm said.

Condit, in turn, is denying any hint of criminality and raising questions about the integrity of the underlying law enforcement investigation into Levy’s 2001 death.

“The record demonstrates that the only person who told the truth throughout this tragedy is Congressman Condit,” Bret Peace, a corporate attorney and friend of the Condit family, said Wednesday. “The cops lied and the press was misled. Neither the public defender nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office wants to put the people who actually lied on the stand.”

Peace cited, as the “tip of the iceberg,” the 2010 trial testimony of a Washington police detective who alleged that Condit had falsely denied having an “intimate relationship” with Levy. Condit’s backers think this fed an erroneous narrative that he was deceitful and an impediment to police.

In fact, a contemporaneous 2001 police report of the detectives’ initial interview with Condit recounted that when the congressman was asked whether he had an intimate relationship with Levy, he responded, “I don’t think we need to go there, and you can infer what (you) want with that.”

“He further stated that his family did not know about Chandra Levy,” the police report noted.

There are a lot of things in play. I understand both sides are gearing up.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Roberte E. Morin

Now 67, Condit represented a San Joaquin Valley congressional district from 1989 through 2002. His political career ended following Levy’s disappearance and subsequent rumors and, ultimately, revelations that he had been having an affair with the much younger woman.

Ohm and his team of Public Defender Service attorneys represent Ingmar Guandique, who was convicted of first-degree murder in November 2010 and is serving a 60-year sentence. Prosecutors, relying heavily on a prison informant, say Guandique killed Levy in Washington’s Rock Creek Park shortly before she was to return to her family’s Modesto, California, home.

Condit testified at the 2010 trial that he’d had nothing to do with Levy’s death, and he was never charged or named as a target of investigators.

Now, as they prepare for a new trial March 1, Guandique’s defense attorneys are suggesting that they will name Condit as one of several possible alternative suspects. Lawyers sometimes call this a “third-party culpability” defense, in which they raise a “reasonable possibility” that someone other than the defendant may be guilty.

As part of their wide-ranging investigation, defense attorneys earlier this month reiterated in writing their request for documents that include Condit’s bank, telephone and credit card records, as well as “any records from Mr. Condit’s gym” around the time of Levy’s disappearance.

Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin noted Wednesday that “the government has made what I believe to be robust disclosures” in this case, although each document turned over often seems to open up new trails for defense attorneys to explore.

“There are still some things they have asked for that we’re still looking for,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines.

The additional sought material cited Wednesday includes a photograph of Condit allegedly seen by one of Levy’s co-workers at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, where Levy served an internship. Defense attorneys are also asking for notes from any law enforcement interviews with former Congressmen Richard Armey of Texas and John Doolittle of California.

“These are individuals Mr. Condit says he was meeting with on one of the important days in question,” Ohm said.

The defense investigation has delved, as well, into several other individuals, none of whom had Condit’s status as a public figure.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10