Questions and attorney squabbling hover over Chandra Levy murder conviction

McClatchy Washington BureauAugust 19, 2013 

— The post-trial tensions are rising and the legal conflicts escalating between prosecutors and attorneys for the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy.

Now, citing a “lengthy pattern of conduct by the government,” defense attorneys want a judge to threaten prosecutors with contempt and potential sanctions if key documents are not turned over immediately. The new defense request, however it turns out, underscores the hard ball now being played by both sides in a high-profile murder case.

“The government has repeatedly and blatantly disregarded the discovery and disclosure deadlines established by this court,” defense attorney Jonathan W. Anderson asserted in an Aug. 16 legal brief.

The “pattern of last-minute disclosures and pleadings,” Anderson added, “appear designed to make it as difficult as possible” for defense attorneys to obtain the documents they need to seek a new trial for their client, Ingmar Guandique. In some instances, prosecutors have turned over documents only minutes prior to a hearing, or many months after a deadline.

Prosecutors, in turn, have repeatedly fended off what they consider harsh and unfounded characterizations by Guandique’s defense team, previously sealed transcripts of court hearings show.

“I’m being accused of a coverup and of being incompetent,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor complained following one exchange with defense attorneys late last year, a previously sealed transcript shows.

Campoamor was part of the trial team that secured Guandique’s conviction in November 2010. In a case that drew national attention, a jury concluded Guandique killed Levy in 2001 in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. At the time of her death, the 24-year-old old Levy was about to return to her family’s home in Modesto, Calif., following completion of graduate school and a Bureau of Prisons internship.

After Guandique began serving his 60-year sentence, prosecutors learned from Fresno, Calif., investigators that the key prosecution witness had previously provided information to law enforcement officials. The revelations about the witness, former Fresno Bulldogs gang member Armando Morales, potentially undermined his credibility. Defense attorneys say they have been repeatedly frustrated in their efforts to investigate further.

“When defense counsel has asked the government where the disclosures are, most recently on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, the inquiries have been met with silence,” Anderson wrote late last week.

It’s not unusual for tensions to flare up between prosecutors and defense attorneys, particularly when the stakes are so high and the case goes on for so long. It is also not unusual for attorneys, from all sides, to practice gamesmanship in hopes of gaining courtroom advantage. The question for a judge is when it becomes time to blow the whistle on the courtroom equivalent of body-checking and trash-talking.

“…it certainly leaves a bad taste in our mouth,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman said of the defense’s comments, a Feb. 14 hearing, a previously sealed transcript shows. “And to throw at us that we’re holding back anything for litigation or investigative tactical advantage is quite offensive to us as a team and as individuals.”

Anderson, the transcript shows, countered that “it’s too bad that they think it’s offensive.”

In their most recent filing, defense attorneys ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher to give prosecutors 24 hours to turn over materials, including additional Bureau of Prisons’ and FBI documents that could shed further light on Morales. Failure should be punished by a contempt finding and sanctions, the defense attorneys say.

Past missed deadlines cited by defense attorneys included a May 21 judge’s order that prosecutors provide by May 29 a printout of Morales’s National Crime Information Center record. On May 29, prosecutors said they would provide the document by June 3. It was finally provided July 16. A prosecutor’s notes that Justice Department attorneys on Feb.14 said would be provided, and which the judge later directed be provided by May 29, were finally turned over on July 30.

As a matter of policy, the U.S. Attorney’s office does not comment on pending litigation.

Email: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

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