October 9, 2013

Cloud over Chandra Levy murder witness raises doubts

The Chandra Levy murder mystery now revolves around a Fresno, Calif.-based federal prosecutor and a former gang member he once put away.

The Chandra Levy murder mystery now revolves around a Fresno, Calif.-based federal prosecutor and a former gang member he once put away.

Soon, some of the fog could lift.

In a two-and-a-half hour court hearing Wednesday, defense attorneys pressed hard for more information about what prosecutors knew about the former gang member and when they knew it. Someone hasn’t been telling the whole truth, the defense attorneys say.

“There have been inaccurate representations,” defense attorney Jonathan Anderson said, “and they have been shown to be inaccurate with information in the files of the Department of Justice.”

In response, a trial judge directed Justice Department attorneys to talk to the Fresno-based prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dawrence “Duce” Rice, and report back on what he recalls about the former Fresno Bulldogs gang member Armando Morales.

The November 2010 testimony of Morales helped convict Ingmar Guandique, the man charged with killing Levy in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Levy’s death occurred shortly before she was to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home, and her disappearance drew national attention following speculation and then revelations that she had been having an affair with then-Rep. Gary Condit.

A former cellmate of Guandique, Morales testified that the younger inmate had confessed to him that he had killed Levy. Guandique was sentenced to 60 years following his conviction in 2010 on first-degree murder charges

Guandique’s defense attorneys, however, didn’t know several important facts about Morales at the time of the trial.

One belatedly discovered fact that was that Rice, the Fresno-based prosecutor had warned in 1998 that “political agendas and personal agendas” could taint Morales’ credibility in another case.

Newly public documents further show Rice had cautioned a Fresno detective in 1998 that he should be “very cautious” about relying on Morales. The information, had it come out during Guandique’s trial, could have undermined Morales’ effectiveness as a witness.

“This would have opened up a large argument for the defense,” Justice Department attorney David Gorman acknowledged Wednesday.

The second important and belatedly discovered fact was that Morales had previously provided information to law enforcement, contrary to his presentation of himself at Guandique’s trial as unaccustomed to prison snitching. It has subsequently been revealed that Morales had previously talked with Fresno County Sheriff’s Department investigators nine times by telephone, and once in person at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta.

The third important and belatedly discovered fact was that Fresno investigators, following up on information that Morales had provided on unsolved homicides, found evidence contradicting at least part of his claims.

“Someone who is willing to lie about one murder to the police is someone you cannot trust about any murder,” Anderson said.

The hearing Wednesday was over defense attorneys’ efforts to get the trial judge to order prosecutors to turn over more documents or information. They succeeded in part.

Defense attorneys allege that D.C prosecutors were misleading last year when they initially declared in writing that Rice “did not have any information that would call into question Mr. Morales’ credibility or truthfulness." A Fresno Police Department report, contained within an FBI file that was eventually released to defense attorneys, spelled out how Rice had, in fact, raised warning flags about Morales in 1998.

“I shared with Rice some of the information Morales had provided, and some of the inconsistencies that I was finding in the investigation,” a Fresno Police Department detective wrote. “Rice advised me that I should be very cautious regarding Morales, because he felt that Morales had a political agenda and a personal agenda on why he might want to be returned to California, or moved to another location.”

Anderson, the defense attorney, said it’s important to know why the Justice Department initially claimed that Rice had no information casting doubt on Morales. So far, Anderson noted, defense attorneys have not been able to talk to Rice.

“The original representations were made in good faith,” Gorman said.

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