Witness in Chandra Levy murder case was government informer

 

McClatchy Washington Bureau

The key witness in the trial of the man convicted of killing former intern Chandra Levy had a previously undisclosed history as a government snitch, a court hearing revealed Tuesday.

The revelations about former Fresno, Calif., gang member Armando Morales might undermine his credibility, could taint prosecutors and definitely set the stage for defense attorneys to seek a new trial for Ingmar Guandique, the man convicted in November 2010 of the killing.

“Armando Morales lied to the jury in this case, and the Department of Justice had proof of those lies before and during the trial,” defense attorney Jon Anderson said after a three-hour hearing. “Mr. Guandique deserves a new trial.”

Morales’s prior snitching apparently ranged from sharing tips about certain unspecified violent crimes to informing authorities about drugs and weapons at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta, according to information aired for the first time Tuesday. Defense attorneys say Morales was hoping to trade this information for benefits such as better treatment, and that they were at an unfair disadvantage by not knowing about it at trial.

“That information may have impeached Mr. Morales’ testimony,” District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher said.

Prosecutors are legally obliged to share potentially helpful information with defense attorneys. But though Morales’ prior snitching reportedly was recorded in Bureau of Prisons records, among other sources, defense attorneys and the judge didn’t learn about it until last year. Through a series of still-secret events, federal prosecutors in Washington say the information was belatedly brought to their own attention, prompting them to alert the judge and, eventually, the defense.

A decision on a new trial is still many months away.

“The last word will not be today,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman acknowledged Tuesday, adding that defense arguments amounted to “speculation and conjecture.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement after the hearing that Morales "never asked for or received any benefit for his testimony in this case."

A former Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy was preparing to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home when she dropped from sight on May 1, 2001. Her disappearance attracted national notoriety after speculation, subsequently confirmed, that she’d been having an affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit, D-Calif. Levy’s skeletal remains were found in 2002 in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

Lacking eyewitnesses or DNA evidence, prosecutors built their case primarily on circumstantial evidence. Guandique, for instance, had admitted to attacking two other women in Rock Creek Park. The linchpin, though, was Morales.

A founding member of the Fresno Bulldogs street gang, Morales was serving time on drug and weapons charges in federal prison in Kentucky when he shared a cell for several weeks with Guandique. Morales subsequently testified that Guandique had confessed to him that he’d killed Levy during a robbery attempt.

“He was the only witness that tied Ingmar Guandique to Chandra Levy,” Anderson noted.

During the trial, defense attorneys pressed Morales hard on his lengthy criminal record. They also suggested that he was always looking out for himself, citing his plea agreement in Fresno that led to a reduced sentence. In response, a prosecutor asked Morales whether he’d entered into prior cooperation agreements, in which he traded information for personal advantage.

“Did you have any kind of deal like that, in any of the cases in which you pled guilty and accepted responsibility?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines asked Morales during his Nov. 4, 2010, testimony.

“None,” Morales replied.

The subsequently uncovered information about Morales’ cooperation with law enforcement officials comes in several forms.

Another inmate, who’d traded information for leniency in his own case, wrote a three-page letter on Morales’ behalf, summarizing his claims about the Guandique confession. Defense attorneys say they were never given the first page, which detailed how Morales had previously given information to law enforcement.

Prosecutors say they properly turned over the entire letter.

Separately, prison intake forms include boxes to be checked if someone has helped law enforcement in the past. Defense attorneys say that some forms they now receive include the checked box, but they say they haven’t received the forms from all the prisons Morales has been in. The defense investigation also is delving into what other information is in Morales’ complete Bureau of Prisons file, as well as information from the Fresno-based federal prosecutors who dealt with Morales in the 1996 case that sent him to prison until 2016.

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

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • 6 candidates in running for equestrian presidency

    Six candidates — all from Europe — are in the running to replace Princess Haya of Jordan as president of the International Equestrian Federation.

  •  
FILE - This Aug. 12, 2014 file photo shows a healthcare worker walking near a Ebola isolation unit wearing protective gear against the virus at Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Federal researchers next week will start testing humans with an experimental vaccine to prevent the deadly Ebola virus. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced Thursday that it is launching the safety trial on a vaccine developed by the agency’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline. They will test 20 healthy adult volunteers to see if the virus is safe and triggers an adequate response in their immune systems.

    Ivory Coast will allow Sierra Leone team in

    The Ivory Coast government decided late Monday to allow Sierra Leone's team to enter the country, giving the go-ahead for an African Cup qualifier after fears over Ebola put the game and Ivory Coast's place in the tournament in doubt.

  • 5 things to know about driving on marijuana

    The legalization of recreational marijuana in two states — Colorado and Washington — and medical marijuana in more than 20 others has raised concern that there will be more drivers stoned behind the wheel. What's not clear is whether that will translate into an increase in fatal crashes. Five things to know about marijuana and driving:

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category