Politics & Government

Judge orders 11-month delay in Chandra Levy murder trial

WASHINGTON — A judge on Monday reluctantly postponed until next October the trial of the man who's accused of killing former intern Chandra Levy in May 2001.

With prosecutors now planning a revised indictment of suspect Ingmar Guandique, Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher agreed to delay the trial, which had been scheduled to begin in January. Guandique will remain in jail pending the start of the trial Oct. 4.

"Obviously, we would prefer an earlier trial date," Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor said Monday, "but we think that's the first one that realistically can work."

An illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Guandique is accused of murdering Levy in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Levy had just completed graduate school and a Bureau of Prisons internship and was preparing to return to California.

The original indictment in May charged Guandique with first-degree murder, attempted sexual assault and kidnapping. On Monday, Campoamor revealed that prosecutors intend to file a superseding indictment by mid-December. He declined to specify how the new indictment would differ from the first one.

Since the initial charges were lodged, though, prosecutors have alleged publicly that Guandique and his alleged gang associates have threatened potential witnesses. The alleged threats have included communications from Guandique directly and from members of the feared Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha, prosecutors said.

"(One) 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 at a court hearing last month.

Threatening a federal witness is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while transmitting threats via the mail can bring up to five years in prison. Prosecutors didn't indicate Monday that the new indictment would include witness-tampering charges, but Campoamor acknowledged that the intention to file a new indictment contributed to prosecutors' willingness to postpone the trial date.

Guandique's defense attorneys previously had sought without success to push back the initial Jan. 27 trial date, set by a previous judge. Now, though, defense attorneys and prosecutors alike have agreed that a later date is required. Fisher pressed the attorneys about the possibility of a shorter delay, but attorneys couldn't find an earlier date on which everyone was available for trial.

"We were trying to see if a date in September could work," Campoamor told the judge, but that effort proved futile.

Guandique is completing a 10-year sentence for attacking two other women in Rock Creek Park. On Monday, attorneys agreed that if his sentence runs out before his new trial starts — a possibility that neither side was certain of — he will remain in jail without the possibility of bail.

The first judge on the Guandique case, Geoffrey Alprin, retired recently and handed over the case to Fisher.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary and the Catholic University of America's law school, Fisher was appointed to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia bench in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.


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(e-mail: mdoyle(at)mcclatchydc.com)