Find out what Chandra Levy jurors were thinking before trial

01/26/2012 8:49 AM

01/26/2012 5:02 PM

WASHINGTON — Meet the jurors who convicted Chandra Levy's killer.

One initially recalled, in a pre-trial questionnaire, that "a U.S. senator was under suspicion because he was having an affair with Levy." Another recalled, vaguely, that "Levy was dating some political person." One offered some concrete details.

"A congressman from California, Gary Condit, was a suspect," one juror wrote, in summarizing his prior knowledge of the case. "I think they were having an affair."

This week, following a protracted legal battle over public access to court documents, a trial judge released the jurors' questionnaires from the high-profile 2010 trial.

Sometimes, the jurors were mistaken in what they thought they knew. Three jurors, for instance, specified that they thought Levy was romantically involved with a "senator." In truth, she was having an affair with the congressman, Condit. Police never named him as a suspect.

But in the end, the 12 jurors and four alternatives survived an unusually rigorous screening process to take their part in the murder trial.

The selected jurors ultimately convicted Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique of first-degree murder in November 2010. They were convinced that Guandique killed Levy in Washington's Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001, shortly before Levy was to return to Modesto, Calif., where her parents still live.

Guandique is now serving a 60-year prison sentence in federal prison, while his defense attorneys prepare an appeal.

The juror screening, called voir dire, included an 11-page questionnaire that probed attitudes, experiences and prior knowledge. Some of the 16 selected jurors, for instance, stressed they were blank slates on the case.

"In May 2001, I was just graduating high school and was not up to date on any news," a 27-year-old female management analyst noted.

The screening was more rigorous than usual because revelations of Levy's relationship with Condit, a married politician some three decades her senior, drew widespread media coverage. Condit testified at the trial, though he refused to answer questions about the nature of his relationship with Levy.

"The coverage of (Levy's) case captured the nation's attention," Judge Kathryn A. Oberly noted in a ruling last week by the D.C. Court of Appeals that ordered the release of the questionnaires. "Not surprisingly, then, the trial court and the parties devoted considerable discussion to the process of selecting a fair and impartial jury in Guandique's trial."

Eight of the 16 jurors made some reference in their questionnaires to Levy's involvement with a politician, though these references were generally both vague and erroneous.

"I've heard family members believe that the senator had something to do with it," wrote a 37-year-old female billing specialist.

Attorneys wanted to ensure that jurors were not prejudiced against tattooed gang members. Guandique claimed membership in the dreaded Mara Salvatrucha/MS-13 gang, while the key prosecution witness against him was likewise once a member of a violent Fresno-based gang.

"They are looking for camaraderie in all the wrong places," a 28-year-old female restaurant hostess wrote when asked about gang members.

Guandique is festooned with tattoos that were effectively covered up by civilian clothes and turtleneck sweaters during the trial, and defense attorneys in particular wanted to ensure jurors were not overtly prejudiced against body art.

"I don't like them, so many people disfiguring themselves," a 62-year-old female interior designer acknowledged.

But another female juror, a 58-year-old editor, said she had no problems with tattoos, noting that "I have two myself," while a 60-year-old male Justice Department employee called tattoos "a form of freedom."

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