Politics & Government

Did Chandra Levy suspect, gang members, threaten witness?

WASHINGTON -- Prosecutors said Friday that Salvadoran gang members and the man accused of killing former intern Chandra Levy threatened to murder a potential witness in the case.

The jailhouse informant remains unidentified and in protective custody. But in a court hearing Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor said accused killer Ingmar Guandique and his alleged gang associates made their warnings abundantly clear.

"The witness received a letter from MS-13, reminding him that if he were to testify at the trial, they knew where his family is," Campoamor said.

The threatening letter sent in September from the Salvadoran gang also known as Mara Salvatrucha followed an earlier threat that Campoamor said was conveyed directly by Guandique.

The potential witness, one of several jailhouse informants upon whom prosecutors are relying, was subsequently moved out of the Washington jail to an undisclosed location. He has refused multiple interview requests from Guandique's defense attorneys and their investigators.

Heavily tattooed and a self-proclaimed member of MS-13, Guandique is charged with first-degree murder and attempted sexual assault. Prosecutors say he stalked and killed Levy while the former Bureau of Prisons intern was jogging in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

Raised in Modesto, where her parents still live, Levy had recently finished her graduate studies when she disappeared on May 1, 2001. Her skeletal remains were found a year later. During the intervening months, intensive media scrutiny had brought to light her relationship with married congressman Gary Condit.

Though never named as a suspect in Levy's death, Condit lost his House seat as a result of the case and his handling of it. Last week, defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo failed in their effort to obtain Condit's saliva samples and material taken from his D.C. condominium for potential independent DNA testing.

"I don't fault Ms. Sonenberg and Ms. Hawilo in any way for vigorously defending their client," Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Alprin said Friday.

Guandique's attorneys also want to secure a handwriting sample from the allegedly threatened witness, to compare to other writing obtained as evidence. The occasionally testy hearing Friday was convened to discuss defense requests that some court orders related to the defense investigation be kept private.

"We're entitled to conduct our investigation the way we want," said Sonenberg, who works for the D.C. Public Defender Service. "We don't have to follow the government's suggestion on how to investigate our cases."

Alprin said he was uncomfortable with issuing any more secret -- or "ex parte" -- orders, but he agreed to order that the potential witness provide a handwriting sample.

The prosecution case against Guandique is essentially circumstantial, based in part on confessions he allegedly made to several fellow inmates. He has been incarcerated since 2002 on charges that he attacked two other women in Rock Creek Park.