WASHINGTON — Fresno police detectives wanted help with an unsolved crime or two.
Now, their simple queries may unexpectedly have started unraveling the case against the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy.
In previously sealed court documents made public this week, investigators illuminate more fully the dark, backstage drama that's roiled the Levy murder mystery. Defense attorneys say they will demand a retrial for Ingmar Guandique, the man convicted in November 2010 of killing Levy.
The reasonable doubt arises, defense attorneys say, because of new-found evidence that could undermine the credibility of former Fresno gang member Armando Morales, the key prosecution witness against Guandique. That evidence, the newly available documents show, came to light as an inadvertent byproduct of an unrelated Fresno investigation.
"We think this really undercuts, directly undercuts, a key pillar of Mr. Morales' testimony," defense attorney Jonathan W. Anderson said at a Dec. 12, 2012, hearing, according to a previously sealed transcript.
A jury concluded that Guandique killed the 24-year-old Levy on May 1, 2001, in Washington's Rock Creek Park, shortly before the former Bureau of Prisons intern was to return to her Modesto home. Guandique is serving a 60-year sentence.
Morales, the newly public documents suggest, has been in danger since testifying that Guandique had confessed to him while they were cellmates. The subsequent hearings and documents have been mostly sealed until now to protect Morales and some of his family members.
Morales's brother "denounced the witness and made it known in the gang community that the witness should not have 'snitched,' " prosecutors said in a previously sealed December 2012 court filing. Family members have been pointedly reminded that "they are related to the witness and that the witness is a 'snitch,' " and that other members of Morales' former gang, the Fresno Bulldogs, eventually will be released from prison, the prosecutors added.
The core of Morales' alleged credibility problem is the post-trial discovery that he had previously cooperated with law enforcement. This revelation was at odds with his 2010 testimony, when he presented himself as a man unaccustomed to snitching.
The newly unsealed court documents show that the Washington, D.C.-based prosecutors first learned about Morales' previous record of cooperation by chance, when they were contacted early last year by Fresno Police Department detectives and the U.S. attorney's office in Fresno. The Fresno investigators wanted to know where Morales was imprisoned so they could talk to him about some past crimes.
"Through a conference call with (Fresno) detectives . . . we learned that the (Fresno department) was attempting to locate Mr. Morales because it had recently discovered transcripts of two interviews that the Fresno County Sheriff's Department had conducted of Mr. Morales in June 1998," Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez recounted in a previously sealed Nov. 21, 2012, letter.
The discovery stunned D.C.-based prosecutors, who had not known about the Fresno deputies' 1998 debriefing of Morales, which included seven phone calls and an in-person interview. The prosecutors then spent many months trying to investigate further before they contacted a trial judge late last year.
Eventually, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher may have to decide legal questions, such as whether the D.C.-based prosecutors should have known and shared with the defense Fresno-based details about Morales's past cooperation. The D.C.-based prosecutors argue that their Fresno counterparts were not part of the D.C. trial team.
Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-383-0006.