Gag order put on lawyers trying Chandra Levy's suspected killer

September 27, 2010 

WASHINGTON -- A judge on Monday imposed a gag order on attorneys involved in the trial of the man accused of killing former Modesto resident Chandra Levy.

Citing the high visibility of a case that once was a tabloid sensation, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher directed prosecutors and defense attorneys not to discuss with reporters the trial that is scheduled to start Oct. 18.

"I don't want what is likely to be a (high-profile) trial to have additional problems," Fisher said during a pretrial motions hearing, adding that "we won't have to worry about inappropriate information being out there in the media."

With half a dozen reporters in attendance, Fisher imposed the gag order under a D.C. rule governing "widely publicized or sensational" cases.

Gag orders are not unheard of but do not appear to be common in Washington's Superior Court cases, even when the underlying crimes have achieved some notoriety.

After a private bench meeting with attorneys, Fisher rescheduled the trial to begin Oct. 18, instead of Monday. No explanation was given for the delay.

Prosecutors say Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique attempted to assault Levy sexually in Washington's Rock Creek Park and then killed her May 1, 2001. Levy had finished her Bureau of Prisons internship and graduate studies and was reportedly planning to return to California.

On Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled over what evidence might be presented in a trial that's expected to last up to five weeks.

Prosecutors won the right to mention Guandique's claim that he was a member of the Salvadoran gang MS-13. The defense said these claims would prejudice jurors, but Fisher agreed with prosecutors that it might be relevant in explaining why Guandique allegedly spoke of his crimes to fellow inmates.

"He's very concerned about how the gang will view him," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said, adding that "he confesses to certain individuals because they are gang members."

Prosecutors say Guandique confessed to multiple inmates that he killed Levy.

Haines agreed that some details about Guandique's alleged statements to other inmates will not be presented in direct trial testimony, including the claim that Guandique was raping another inmate while describing what he did to Levy.

Public defender Maria Hawilo said "there is no direct evidence" that Levy was raped. Levy's skeletal remains were found in the woods about a year after she disappeared.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.

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