Judge says trial into death of Modesto's Levy will go on

October 15, 2010 

LEVY

A marker indicates where Chandra Levy's remains were found at Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park. Police, who suspect that Levy was sexually assaulted, are reviewing crimes in or near the park.

(ANDREA BRUCE WOODALL / WASHINGTON POST)

WASHINGTON — A judge Thursday kept alive a slimmed-down case against the man accused of killing former Modesto resident Chandra Levy despite what defense attorneys now call “illegal” and “unethical” actions by investigators.

In a surprise eve-of-trial clash that revealed detectives’ trickery, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher rejected defense efforts to either dismiss the case against accused killer Ingmar Guandique or take it out of the hands of federal prosecutors.

“This case is going forward to trial,” Fisher declared during a hearing that grew markedly tense at times.

Defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo had sought to end the case after they learned this week about how detectives tried to fool Guandique into writing letters implicating himself in Levy’s May 2001 death.

“Law enforcement poses a pen pal to Mr. Guandique, using the pseudonym Maria Lopez, and started corresponding with him in an effort to elicit incriminating statements,” Sonenberg said.

Guandique did not respond to the “Maria Lopez” correspondence, although it is unclear whether he saw through the detectives’ ploy. In a legal filing late Wednesday, one day after learning about the previously undisclosed tactic, Sonenberg and Hawilo argued detectives acted illegally and unethically in contacting Guandique without his lawyers’ knowledge.

At the time of the false correspondence, Guandique was in federal prison on unrelated charges. He had not yet been formally charged in the Levy murder.

“This goes to the antics, the shenanigans, the lengths to which they’ve gone to prosecute Mr. Guandique,” Sonenberg said.

It’s not yet clear exactly which investigating officer wrote the “Maria Lopez” letter, or why the correspondence only came to light late Tuesday, less than a week prior to the start of Guandique’s trial. Prosecutors, though, bristled at what one called the “inflammatory” statements made by Sonenberg.

“She may not like it, but that doesn’t mean it’s improper or unethical,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez said.

Fisher did not opine on the propriety of the false pen-pal correspondence, other than to say that it would not be “appropriate” to dismiss the case or remove Campoamor-Sanchez and fellow prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines.

Haines revealed Thursday that prosecutors will be voluntarily dropping three charges against Guandique, in which the illegal Salvadoran immigrant and alleged prison gang member had been accused of threatening witnesses. Haines characterized the move as “an effort to streamline” the case.

Guandique is accused of killing Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted sexual assault in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

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