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New trial ordered in Chandra Levy murder case

In this May 28, 2002 file photo taken at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. photos of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy.
In this May 28, 2002 file photo taken at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. photos of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy. AP

A judge on Thursday ordered a new trial for the man convicted of killing former intern Chandra Levy.

Punctuating an extraordinary sequence of events that has slowly unfolded over the past several years, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher granted the new-trial request made by attorneys for Ingmar Guandique.

The new trial will feature different attorneys arguing before a new judge who must now come quickly up to speed on a murder mystery that has, at times, attracted both national notoriety and fevered speculation.

“I am not familiar with the facts,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin said Thursday morning, “other than it’s a homicide.”

Morin will now learn that, based largely on the testimony of former Fresno gang leader Armando Morales, a jury in November 2010 convicted Guandique of first-degree murder for the 2001 killing of Levy. A 24-year-old former Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy was preparing to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home at the time of her death.

Levy’s disappearance drew widespread attention amid speculation, later confirmed by prosecutors, that she had been having an affair with then-congressman Gary Condit. Prosecutors said Condit was never a suspect in the killing, but he lost his re-election bid in 2002.

Morales testified that Guandique had confessed to him while they were cellmates in a federal prison in Kentucky. Morales told jurors that he had no prior experience as an informant, enhancing his credibility.

Prosecutors did not have any DNA evidence linking Guandique to Levy, making the Morales testimony all the more crucial.

“The prosecutors who handled this case at the time have stated it’s doubtful they could have obtained a conviction without Morales,” defense attorney Jonathan Anderson told Morin on Thursday.

But after Guandique was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison, Justice Department officials say they learned in 2012 that Morales had earlier cooperated with law enforcement in Fresno County and elsewhere. Anderson said Thursday that defense attorneys will be seeking unspecified “sanctions” against prosecutors for failing to share relevant information.

“In their view, Mr. Morales was the best informant they had,” Anderson said.

Anderson further cast doubts on whether prosecutors will bring Morales back to testify the second time around, and said without elaborating that Morales might be facing an unrelated murder investigation in California.

“We don’t believe the government can prevail at trial,” Anderson said, in asking that Guandique be released from prison on bond.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman said he disagreed with almost everything Anderson said, though he underscored the common understanding that the retrial could get complicated, noting that “there may be a lot of new issues the defense may bring up, or the government may bring up.”

Morin put off until at least a follow-up hearing next Friday any decision on Guandique’s bond request. A trial date, which could stretch until next year, has also not yet been set.

Fisher, who oversaw Guandique’s original 2010 trial, handed the case off to Morin because of routine courthouse reassignments. Morin is currently the presiding judge of the D.C. Superior Court’s Criminal Division, while Fisher has been reassigned to probate and tax issues.

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