GUILTY: Jurors convict immigrant of killing Chandra Levy

Susan Levy: 'I have a lifetime sentence'

11/23/2010 12:00 AM

10/20/2014 12:50 PM

P.M UPDATE:

WASHINGTON — A jury on Monday convicted Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique of killing Chandra Levy in 2001.

The jury of three men and nine women deliberated for a little more than three days before announcing its verdict, which caps one of the nation's longest-running and most relentlessly chronicled murder mysteries.

The two first-degree felony murder convictions subject Guandique to a potential sentence of 30 years to life in prison, as the District of Columbia does not have the death penalty.

“It’s been an important Monday morning for me and my family,” Levy’s mother, Susan, said shortly after the verdict was read. “It makes a difference to find the right person who was responsible for my daughter’s death.”

Susan Levy stared straight at Guandique when the jury foreman read the guilty verdicts. Guandique appeared to be without expression, and his defense attorneys declined immediate comment.

Guandique's sentencing will come Feb. 11, following additional court proceedings. The fearsomely tattooed 29-year-old is already serving a prison sentence for attacking two other women in Washington's Rock Creek Park.

Rock Creek Park is where, jurors agreed, Guandique killed Levy on May 1, 2001, during an attempted robbery and kidnapping. All told, the jurors convened for roughly 18 hours.

“I don’t know that it was a difficult decision, but it was lengthy,” said juror Linda Norton, a 62-year-old interior designer. “We felt we owed it to everyone involved to go through all of the evidence.”

Another juror, 28-year-old restaurant worker Emily Grinstead, stressed that there was no single element of the prosecution’s case that ensured conviction.

“At the end of the day, the decision was based on all of the evidence, and not just one piece,” Grinstead said.

A third juror, 58-year-old journalist Susan Kelly, added that the closing arguments "were very effective" in summing up the case. The three jurors said the entire jury panel agreed not to discuss deliberations in detail.

"They set aside all the rumors and speculation," U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. said in a post-verdict news conference.

Machen had not appeared during the trial, which was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines and her colleague Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez.

Three witnesses seemed most compelling during the 10 days of testimony. Two women who survived their own 2001 attacks by Guandique described vividly what happened.

"He grabbed me from behind and held a knife to my face," recounted Christy Wiegand, now a 35-year-old attorney with two children. "He brutally attacked me, and dragged me to an isolated area."

Guandique's other known surviving victim, Halle Shilling, likewise recalled how she "felt an incredible thud" when Guandique jumped her from behind while she was jogging. Shilling, now a mother of three living in Southern California, and Wiegand were both able to fight Guandique off.

Wiegand and Shilling were both also considerably bigger than the 24-year-old Levy.

In addition to the testimony by Wiegand and Shilling, prosecutors benefited from the firmly spoken recollections of prison inmate Armando Morales. A former gang member, who is still serving time on drug charges, Morales testified that Guandique confessed to him in 2006 that he had killed Levy.

"He told me he spotted her over there at the park," recalled Morales, who shared a prison cell with Guandique for six weeks. "She was alone, and she had on one of those waist pouches. He decided to rob her.

He said he hid in the bushes he ran up behind her and grabbed her from behind. He said he dragged her into the bushes.

"He said by the time he had dragged her into the bushes, she had stopped struggling," Morales added. "He said he never meant to kill her."

Levy had finished graduate studies and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship when she disappeared. She was planning to take a May 5 Amtrak train back home to California's San Joaquin Valley, trial testimony revealed.

The 10 days of testimony shed considerable light on Levy's life and times. Witnesses told of Levy's physical fitness habits, the color of her clothing and the traces of her final Internet browsing that ended shortly before 1 p.m. on May 1, 2001.

Most intimately, Levy's semen-spotted underwear examined by the FBI confirmed that she had had a sexual relationship with then-California congressman Gary Condit. Some of Levy's final Internet searches focused on Condit and his family members, according to trial testimony.

In the trial's most anticipated moment, Condit testified for about two hours, during which time he denied killing Levy but refused to admit to an affair with the much younger woman.

Condit's Los Angeles attorney, Bertram Fields, said in a statement late Monday that "Condit has been vindicated and finally has closure."

"But who will give him his career back?" Fields added. "This should have happened years ago."

Of the 40 prosecution witnesses, only Morales directly connected Guandique to Levy. Prosecutors did not call other prison snitches previously cited by investigators as having heard Guandique confess.

Prosecutors lacked any DNA, fingerprint, fiber or other physical evidence connecting Guandique to Levy or the wooded Rock Creek Park hillside where her skeletal remains were found in May 2002. There were no eyewitnesses. Prosecutors also didn't get a chance to cross-examine Guandique, who listened to the translated trial proceedings through a headset. His aggressive attorneys from the D.C. Public Defenders Service, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, did not put the Spanish-speaking, middle-school dropout on the stand.

Prosecutors also faced the burden of prior law enforcement errors.

Over time, charges came and went. Prosecutors added accusations that Guandique sought to obstruct justice by threatening potential witnesses, but then these charges were dropped. On the day they rested their case, Nov. 10, prosecutors also dropped two charges relating to attempted sexual assault.

By the time the jurors began deliberating Wednesday morning, the charges against Guandique were limited to two counts of felony murder.

“I have a lifetime sentence, of a missing limb, missing from my family tree,” Susan Levy said.

VIDEO: Susan Levy news conference following verdict

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/video.

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