Prosecution rests in Chandra Levy murder trial

mdoyle@mcclatchydc.comNovember 11, 2010 

EDITOR'S NOTE: - This story contains sexual content that may offend some readers.

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors on Wednesday rested their scaled-back case against the man who they say killed former Modesto resident Chandra Levy.

In a surprise move, prosecutors dropped an attempted sexual assault and associated murder count against accused killer Ingmar Guandique. They then rested, without calling other potential witnesses that included prison snitches they had once touted as important.

Defense attorneys promptly requested D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher to acquit Guandique on the remaining four counts that include kidnapping, attempted robbery and two counts of homicide. Fisher ruled the case can proceed.

“I think there is enough evidence, considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, to sustain the remaining counts,” Fisher said.

The prosecution’s unexpectedly abrupt cessation of its case came after nine days of testimony that began Oct. 25. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said two or three additional rebuttal witnesses may testify Tuesday, once defense attorneys have finished.

“Hopefully, we’ll start closing arguments Tuesday,” Fisher said, adding that the case should be presented to jurors “no later than Wednesday morning.

Prosecutors say Guandique killed the 24-year-old Levy on May 1, 2001, while she was jogging or hiking in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Until deciding to drop some of the charges, prosecutors had maintained the murder occurred during an attempted rape.

Defense attorneys early Wednesday afternoon began presenting their formal case, summoning three witnesses before proceedings ended for the day. One defense witness, a cartographer, testified about the distance between Levy’s condo and the Rock Creek Park trail where her skeletal remains were found in 2002.

The cartographer testified it would take Levy an hour and 40 minutes to walk to the trail from her condo, suggesting this an unlikely scenario. An implicit defense argument is that Levy was killed somewhere else and her body was dropped in the park.

Haines, though, brought out that Levy might have made the trip very quickly by Metro train.

Defense attorneys said they have three or four other witnesses to present, including a prison inmate scheduled to appear by video on Tuesday.

A former prison cellmate of Guandique, Armando Morales, testified last week that Guandique confessed killing Levy. By resting their case now, prosecutors will not be calling other witnesses they have previously cited, including one former cellmate who allegedly said Guandique raped him.

Levy’s 2001 disappearance attracted national notoriety, and continued media attention, largely because of revelations about Levy’s relationship with then-California congressman Gary Condit.

On Wednesday morning, an FBI examiner testified that semen stains found in Levy’s underwear matched Condit’s DNA.

“It matched his DNA profile from his known sample,” FBI forensics examiner Alan Giusti testified.

The semen sample showed Condit had a sexual relationship with Levy, which is something he has never publicly acknowledged. It did not, however, help solve the mystery of Levy’s 2001 death.

The pair of stained underwear was taken by investigators from Levy’s apartment shortly after she disappeared in May 2001. Levy’s skeletal remains, and some accompanying pieces of clothing, were found in May 2002.

Prosecutors already have acknowledged they lack DNA or other physical evidence connecting Guandique to Levy’s death. On Wednesday, moreover, they had to acknowledge errors in how some evidence was processed in 2001. The errors forced investigators to retest certain items again in 2002.

“Unfortunately, there was a problem with the biologist working with me,” Giusti said, adding that “she was not performing the tests according to our protocol.”

The acknowledged FBI lab mistakes from 2001 added to a litany of early law enforcement errors that plagued the initial Levy investigation.

These errors included an intense but ultimately misguided focus on Condit as a potential suspect, Haines has said. Condit testified last week, denying he had anything to do with Levy’s death but refusing to say whether he'd had an affair with the much younger woman.

Condit “had an affair” with Levy, Haines told jurors at the start of the trial.

At the time of her death, Levy had finished graduate studies and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship. She was planning to return to California by Amtrak on May 5, according to evidence presented earlier..

Levy’s black tights, found at the crime scene with the legs knotted together, were found with two distinct DNA samples, examiners have testified. One belonged to a man, and the other belonged to an individual of indeterminate sex. Neither sample could be matched to a specific person, including Guandique.

“That DNA belongs to someone else,” defense attorney Maria Hawilo hammered home Wednesday during cross-examination.

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