- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2010

As the trial of the man accused of killing 24-year-old Washington intern Chandra Levy opened Monday, the prosecution and defense already agreed on one thing: Law enforcement botched the investigation from the start.

The salacious discovery that Levy had carried on an affair with Gary A. Condit, a married congressman three decades her senior, at the time of her disappearance “derailed the investigation,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines, the lead prosecutor in the case.

“That secret of Chandra Levy’s was exposed during the summer of 2001 and it has nothing to do with her murder,” Ms. Haines said during opening statements in a trial expected to last more than a month in D.C. Superior Court.

In the summer before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the case of the missing intern captivated the nation’s capital and much of the rest of the country. The secret affair and hints that Mr. Condit, who is expected to testify during the trial, might have been involved in her disappearance drove much of the interest in the case. The skeletal remains of Levy, who had been jogging in Rock Creek Park, weren’t found until about a year later.

Ms. Haines said investigators, distracted by sensationalized media coverage, had “a secret and not-so-secret agenda” to build a case against a sitting congressman. It was a misstep she said kept them from the real killer: Salvadoran illegal immigrant Ingmar Guandique, the 29-year-old defendant.

Ingmar Guandique, accused of killing Chandra Levy in 2001, is serving time in prison for attacking two other women in Rock Creek Park around the time Miss Levy disappeared. (Associated Press)
Ingmar Guandique, accused of killing Chandra Levy in 2001, is serving time ... more >

Attorneys for Guandique — a reputed member of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, who wore a cream-colored turtleneck to cover his gang tattoos — agree that law enforcement bungled the case. But defense attorney Maria Hawilo went a step further than prosecutors in her opening statement, saying the investigation is broken beyond repair.

“They can’t fix failures,” said Ms. Hawilo, a public defender. “They can’t undo their mistakes.”

Instead, she said, they have found an easy scapegoat in Guandique, who is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for assaulting two other women in Rock Creek Park. Ms. Hawilo acknowledged that her client attacked the other women around the time of Levy’s disappearance, but said he has been punished for those crimes, which she described as attempted robberies.

Now, she said, prosecutors seek to punish him for “sins of the past.”

“Ingmar Guandique is not guilty and nothing that happens during this trial will prove he is,” Ms. Hawilo said. “He did not rob her. He did not rape her. He did not kill her.”

She said much of the prosecution’s case is built on the testimony of jailhouse informants with “deals on their minds, hopes of benefits and knowledge of how the system works,” who are expected to tell the jury that Guandique told them he killed Levy.

Ms. Hawilo also criticized the government for failing to test a DNA sample found on Levy’s running tights. She suggested such evidence could exonerate her client and implicate the actual killer.

“They haven’t bothered to check whose DNA that is because it doesn’t fit their theory,” she said.

Ms. Haines said the DNA came from a small number of skin cells that ended up on the running tights as the result of “contamination” from many people handling it as evidence after it was found in Rock Creek Park. She conceded the prosecution has little in the way of physical evidence, mostly because it took a year for Levy’s remains to be found.

“How Miss Levy died as opposed to who killed her will be a question you have for the rest of your life,” Ms. Haines told jurors.

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