More twists and turns in the Chandra Levy case

 

McClatchy Newspapers

The man convicted of killing one-time Washington intern Chandra Levy will soon be returning to court, even as attorneys wrangle over a spreading veil of secrecy.

While officials prepare to transport the convicted man, Ingmar Guandique, to a District of Columbia court for an early February hearing, some previously public court records surrounding his main accuser are no longer accessible. These latest developments in a murder mystery many thought solved come as defense attorneys formally challenge the prevailing secrecy imposed by a judge’s rulings.

Taken together, the legal maneuvering in recent days underscores the unsettled resolution of a murder that occurred in 2001. The crucial revelation, first made public in December, is that a prosecution witness’s credibility may be in question.

“The hearing addresses issues about information that has come to the government’s attention that may provide impeachment about one of its witnesses at trial, and the possible disclosure of that information may create safety issues that I have concluded are somewhat substantial here,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher explained during a brief public portion of the Dec. 18 hearing.

The witness’s identity has not been disclosed.

On Thursday, Fisher signed a writ of habeas corpus ordering federal prison authorities to deliver Guandique to D.C. Superior Court for a follow-up Feb. 7 hearing. Guandique is now incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution Talladega in Alabama.

Documents accompanying the writ note certain facts about Guandique, such as his height of 5 feet 9 inches and his weight of 165 pounds. He is 31 and, documents note, tattooed. The documents do not, however, explain why his presence is needed at the February hearing, which Fisher has previously indicated might be sealed.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys decline to comment on the case.

On Wednesday, though, Guandique’s defense attorneys filed their intention to appeal Fisher’s order sealing court proceedings. Media organizations including McClatchy, Gannett and The Washington Post have separately retained the WilmerHale law firm to also challenge the secrecy orders.

The Levy murder case created a media sensation more than a decade ago. The 24-year-old graduate student was preparing to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home following a Federal Bureau of Prisons internship when she disappeared on May 1, 2001. It became a political scandal, as well, amid revelations that she had been involved in an extramarital affair with the congressman from her family’s district, Democrat Gary Condit.

Her body was never recovered, but bones and personal items were found along a running and biking trail in a secluded section of a Washington park. In November 2010, a Washington jury convicted Guandique of killing Levy and a judge sentenced him to 60 years in federal prison.

No DNA evidence or eyewitness connected Guandique to Levy’s disappearance, but two women testified how he had attacked them separately in the same park. Most compellingly, former Fresno Bulldogs gang member Armando Morales testified that Guandique had confessed to him while they were in prison together.

Morales, sentenced in 1996 to a 23-year sentence, is no longer listed on the publicly available Bureau of Prisons inmate locator site. It is also no longer possible to access, via the federal government’s PACER website, certain documents from Morales’ case that once could be downloaded.

A July 10, 2001, document that could be publicly downloaded in November 2010, for instance, reflected his challenge to his original sentence. The 2001 document included details of Morales’ criminal history, dating back to a 1982 conviction for robbing a Fresno 7-Eleven store, as well as a summing up of his complaint that his original defense attorney had failed him. The judge rejected the claim, but this 17-page ruling is no longer electronically available.

“You do not have permission to view this document,” PACER now advises.

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

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