WASHINGTON — The Chandra Levy murder mystery twisted again and again Thursday, as defense attorneys asked pointed questions about a "blood-curdling scream" allegedly heard in Levy's apartment building on the day she disappeared.
And for the first time, the judge made public the name of the prosecution witness whose credibility has been called into question in recent months. The witness, former Fresno gang member Armando Morales, was the key to the prosecution's successful case against Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique, who was convicted of Levy's murder.
"It's the defense's view that the impeachment information is substantial, and that it undermines Mr. Morales' credibility and merits a new trial," D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher said.
As for the scream, at least one news report after Levy's 2001 disappearance referenced a "blood-
curdling scream," and police officials declared at the time that a resulting 911 call was unrelated to Levy's case. Still, defense attorneys said Thursday that they apparently had not been given the emergency dispatch tapes from the call.
Taken together, the 911 call and allegations about the most important prosecution witness raise questions about the strength of the case against Guandique as well as whether prosecutors met their legal obligations to share all required information with the defense. A failure to meet the obligation to share information can jeopardize a case.
Early on May 1, 2001, one of Levy's neighbors called 911 to report the scream, which apparently led emergency dispatchers to send a police unit to the building, defense attorney Jon Anderson said. He said defense attorneys didn't know of the emergency call during the high-profile 2010 trial of Guandique.
A July 16, 2001, ABC news report cited an account of a blood-curdling scream, and quoted Charles Ramsey, then Washington's police chief, as discounting its importance.
After a nearly two-hour session at the judge's bench Thursday afternoon, conducted largely out of the public's hearing range, Anderson and his fellow defense attorneys formally asked for copies of the 911 recording and reports of what police did. The information could cast new light on the case, which had seemingly ended with the 2010 conviction of Guandique.
Returning to Modesto
Prosecutors say Guandique stalked and killed Levy in Washington's Rock Creek Park, where her skeletal remains were found in 2002. At the time of her disappearance, she was preparing to return to her Modesto home. Her disappearance drew national notoriety because of revelations that she had been having an affair with her hometown congressman, then-Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres.
But instead of being closed with Guandique's conviction and subsequent sentence of 60 years in prison, the case has taken on new life with several revelations. Starting in December, prosecutors and defense attorneys have been meeting in court periodically to discuss the so-called impeachment information that has come into the government's hands concerning Morales.
Until Thursday, over the objections of media organizations, Fisher had kept the identity of the witness secret.
Morales shared a cell with Guandique for about six weeks in 2006 while they were incarcerated at U.S. Penitentiary Big Sandy, in Kentucky. Guandique seemed to look up to the older inmate, and in time, Morales said, they confided in one another.
"He said, 'Homeboy, I killed that b----, but I didn't rape her,' " Morales testified, adding that "he told me that he didn't even know that he had killed her."
While Fisher on Thursday revealed Morales to be the witness in question, the nature of the new information has not been made public. The judge declared that he will continue to keep it secret for at least 30 days because of potential safety problems.
"The safety concerns have been amply presented to me by the government," Fisher said.
Not worried about convict
In a previous legal brief, Justice Department attorneys cited a "serious risk of harm" to a witness that could result if further information is made public. On Thursday, attorneys clarified that the potential safety concerns do not arise from any threats or communications from Guandique, who sat shackled and silent in an orange jumpsuit throughout the hearing.
Patrick Carome, an attorney representing McClatchy Newspapers and other news organizations, argued without success for greater public access to the proceedings, which largely remain sealed. Most of the hearing was conducted with attorneys clustered around Fisher at his bench, with their voices further muffled by a courtroom noise generator.
"Three months have passed since the government was told to make something happen," Carome said, adding that there hasn't been "an adequate basis" for continued across-the-board secrecy.
In the ever-warmer courtroom, the air conditioning seemed to be on the fritz, and Fisher heard out Ca-rome before repeatedly denying his appeals.
"I sympathize with your frustration," Fisher said.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 383-0006.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10