Condit rep expects ex-Congressman to testify in Levy case

10/18/2010 8:38 AM

11/18/2010 12:49 AM

WASHINGTON - Jury selection began Monday in the long-awaited trial of the man accused of killing former Modesto resident Chandra Levy.

By day’s end, 33 potential jurors had been eliminated for reasons that ranged from the intimate to the mundane. The winnowing process will become public again Wednesday, approximately nine-and-a-half years after Levy’s disappearance shattered a family and wrecked a political career. Two questionnaires and follow-up queries from a judge Monday were designed to identify individuals suitable for deciding whether accused killer Ingmar Guandique will spend the rest of his life in prison. Attorneys will take over the questioning Wednesday.

“This case has received significant media coverage in the District of Columbia, and nationally as well,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher told potential jurors.

The media storm continued Monday, as a dozen journalists showed up for an otherwise routine hearing that attorneys call voir dire. Opening statements are not expected until at least Thursday.

Much of the initial media attention arose from revelations that Levy had been having a covert affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit. On Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez identified Condit as someone jurors may hear “from or about” during a trial expected to last about five weeks.

“I expect Mr. Condit to be called to testify,” the former congressman’s representative, well-known Los Angeles attorney Bert Fields, said in an e-mail Monday. “If so, he will testify and cooperate fully, as he has from the beginning.”

Prosecutors say Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001 amidst an attempted sexual assault in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. The 24-year-old Levy had finished a Bureau of Prisons internship and graduate studies and was reportedly preparing to return to California.

Guandique, who is now 29, is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador currently serving time for two attempted robberies in Rock Creek Park. The victims in those robberies are expected to testify.

On Monday, exposed for the first time to a potential jury, Guandique wore an olive-colored jacket instead of his standard orange jail jumpsuit. Guandique also wore a turtleneck sweater, covering his neck tattoos. His attorneys had presented a written order to the D.C. Jail to ensure Guandique was cleanly shaven.

“Buenos dias,” Guandique told potential jurors in the morning, after his defense attorneys had introduced themselves. In the afternoon, Guandique likewise offered a salutation in Spanish.

Fisher dismissed potential jurors for several reasons. One man was let go after he described how he was the victim of a home invasion robbery. Another man was dismissed because his wife was mugged Sunday night. A police volunteer was dismissed because she has already formed firm opinions about the case.

“Mr. Guandique is guilty,” the woman declared.

Another man was dismissed after he noted that, among other things, his “previous apartment was a couple of blocks from Gary Condit’s apartment, and I remember the media firestorm.”

Reporters listened to the questioning in a separate room.

Some of the 55 questions asked of potential jurors concerned attitudes toward “people with extensive or unusual tattoos.” This could protect both prosecution and defense, as prosecutors intend to summon several gang-affiliated prison informants.

The snitches will reportedly testify that Guandique told them he had attacked Levy, though the details of his various accounts differ. No DNA evidence links Gandique to the crime.

Guandique’s attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, indicated they may need as little as one day to present their defense.

Fisher opened court proceedings about 9:40 a,m, Monday. Levy's mother Susan was not present, though she has received permission from the judge to attend the entire trial.

Prosecutors read aloud the names of about 50 potential witnesses, or others whose names might be mentioned, while defense attorneys read aloud about 20 names.

“The purpose is to select jurors who can be fair and impartial about the case,” Fisher said.

Sonenberg and Hawilo have previously raised concerns that Hispanics may be under-represented on the jury. On Monday, only about two of the 112 potential jurors in the first two panels appeared to be of Hispanic descent.

Opening statements are expected as early as Thursday, though they could be pushed back until Monday. For most of the trial, proceedings are expected to take place every day of the week except Friday.


PM Update

WASHINGTON — Jury selection began Monday morning in the long-awaited trial of the man accused of killing former Modesto resident Chandra Levy.

Dozens of potential jurors filled out unusually extensive questionnaires, nine-and-a-half years after Levy’s disappearance shattered a family and wrecked a political career.

By noon, 14 potential jurors had been eliminated.

Two questionnaires, including one that spanned 11 pages, were designed to identify individuals suitable for deciding whether accused killer Ingmar Guandique will spend the rest of his life in prison.

"This case has received significant media coverage in the District of Columbia, and nationally as well," D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher told the initial panel of 56 potential jurors.

The media storm continued Monday, as at least nine reporters showed up for an otherwise routine hearing that attorneys call voir dire. Opening statements are not expected until at least Thursday.

Much of the initial media attention arose from revelations that Levy had been having a covert affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit.

On Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez identified Condit as one of many individuals the jury may hear “from or about” in the course of trial expected to last about five weeks.

Prosecutors say Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001 in the midst of an attempted sexual assault in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. At the time, the 24-year-old Levy had finished a Bureau of Prisons internship and graduate studies and was reportedly preparing to return to California.

Guandique, who is now 29, is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador currently serving time for two attempted robberies in Rock Creek Park. The victims in those robberies are expected to testify.

On Monday, exposed for the first time to a potential jury, Guandique wore an olive-colored jacket instead of his standard orange jail jumpsuit. Guandique also wore a turtleneck sweater, which effectively covered his neck tattoos.

“Buenos dias,” Guandique told the potential jurors, after his defense attorneys had introduced themselves as well.

Fisher dismissed potential jurors for a variety of reasons, ranging from scheduling conflicts to personal experiences.

One man was dismissed after he described how he was the victim of a home invasion robbery, while a police volunteer was dismissed because she has already formed firm opinions of the case.

“I have a very strong conviction about the case,” the otherwise-unidentified woman said. “Mr. Guandique is guilty.”

Reporters listened to the questioning in a separate room.

Some of the 55 questions asked of potential jurors concerned attitudes toward “people with extensive or unusual tattoos.” This could protect both prosecution and defense, as prosecutors intend to summon several gang-affiliated prison informants who will testify against Guandique.

The snitches will reportedly testify that Guandique told them he had attacked Levy, though the details of his various accounts differ.

Guandique’s attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, indicated they may need as little as one day to present their defense, which will come once the prosecution finishes.

After considerable anticipation, Fisher opened court proceedings about 9:40 a,m, Monday, with the first panel of potential jurors entering about 10:30 a.m. Levy’s mother Susan was not present, though she has received permission from the judge to attend the entire trial even though she may be called as a witness.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys read aloud the names of several dozen potential witnesses, as well as others whose names might pop up throughout the trial.

“The purpose is to select jurors who can be fair and impartial about the case,” Fisher said.

In previous hearings, Sonenberg and Hawilo have raised concerns that Hispanics may be under-represented on the jury. On Monday, only one of the 56 potential jurors in the first panel appeared to be of Hispanic descent.

In the back of the courtroom, a defense jury consultant watched carefully.

Opening statements are expected as early as Thursday, though they could be pushed back until Monday. For most of the trial, proceedings are expected to take place every day of the week except Friday.

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