Defendant seeks new trial in Chandra Levy case

Chandra Levy.    Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (Photo taken in 1994 by Jon Michael Terry)
Chandra Levy.
Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (Photo taken in 1994 by Jon Michael Terry)

Ingmar Guandique, the man found guilty in 2010 of murdering 24-year-old Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy could be headed for a new trial if his pending appeal proves successful.

Guandique’s attorneys are claiming that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not reveal that their primary witness, Armando Morales, had previously cooperated with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, the FBI and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department in cases related to leaders of Mexican drug gangs in the 1990s. Instead, the defense claims that Morales was allowed to present himself in court as someone who had never before cooperated with authorities and was uncomfortable with the information he had shared about Guandique.

Guandique was sentenced to 60 years in prison for Levy’s 2001 murder. Her remains were found in Rock Creek Park one year later.

The case went cold for many years, without a clear suspect and marred by distracting revelations about Levy’s intimate relationship with the married, former Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.).

Guandique had served time for other assaults on women in the same park at around the same time. But he was not connected to the Levy murder until 2009, when he was arrested based on testimony from an informant – who turned out to be Morales – who said Guandique confessed to him while they were cellmates that he had murdered Levy.

At the time that Morales’ information came to light, there was no DNA evidence and few other leads in the case. The jury’s verdict came mostly as a result of Morales’ sworn testimony.

The first phase in the appeal began last week with three days of testimony at the D.C. Superior Court presided over by Judge Gerald Fisher on Nov. 12-15.

The hearing focused on the importance of Morales’ character, with the defense’s main goal being to prove that prosecutors in the trial committed a Brady violation by not revealing “exculpatory or impeaching” evidence to the defense, which could have given the jury reason to suspect his testimony and potentially exonerate Guandique. If prosecutors knew about Morales’ previous government cooperation, the violation would be intentional. If they didn’t, they would still be liable for improperly vetting their witness, the defense argued.

One of the most pivotal peaces of testimony during the hearing came from Dawrence “Duce” Rice, longtime assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, – a laid-back, plain-speaking Californian with long silver hair culminating in a ponytail. Rice was responsible for convicting Morales in 1997 for dealing cocaine and methamphetamine while armed with a lethal weapon for which he was given a 22-year sentence.

Jonathan W. Anderson, an appelate attorney for The Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, questioned him about his interactions with Morales around that time.

Rice described his work in the mid-to-early-’90s to get what he described as “career criminals” like Morales off the Fresno streets. Back then, Morales led a gang called the Bulldog Nation.

Morales was dangerous enough that even after he was locked up, according to Rice, another former Morales associate had to be relocated to a different prison after it became known that Morales had ordered a “hit” on him.

Around the same time, Rice received letters from Morales and his attorney, Francine Zepeda, offering cooperation from Morales on other gang murders, which Rice construed as a ploy by Morales to receive some benefit in return.

“I wasn’t interested,” said Rice when asked how he responded to Morales’ pleas. “I wasn’t interested in trying to solve old homicides, I was interested in preventing new ones.”

“So you were interested in keeping him locked up?” asked Anderson.

“Yep,” Rice responded. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything with it with him as a witness.”

Sitting next to his defense team and surrounded by U.S. Marshals, Guandique listened to the proceeding through headphones that received a live Spanish translation from a tag team of interpreters mumbling at the other end of the small courtroom. The courtroom was generally empty, with the exception of a few reporters and a group that appeared to be Guandique’s family.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper early last year, Susan Levy, Chandra’s mother, told Cooper that she was only 85 percent certain that Grandique was her daughter’s killer.

“I would like to have the truth come out and to be able to know we have the right person,” she said. “I am a mother lion and like mother lions, they go into their intuitive stomach part and their mind and just in an intuitive feeling, I feel that [doubt].”

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