- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

There are plenty of witnesses in the case against an imprisoned Salvadoran immigrant accused of killing former D.C. intern Chandra Levy - the ex-girlfriend who says she was beaten, other women he’s convicted of attacking and a man believed to be a fellow inmate of the accused.

But none of the dozen prosecution witnesses outlined in a March 3 affidavit actually saw the attack on the young woman in Rock Creek Park about eight years ago. Only two directly link Ingmar A. Guandique, who is expected to arrive in Washington in the next few weeks, to Miss Levy’s death.

Prosecutors have nailed convictions in other cases with no physical evidence and only secondhand or circumstantial witness accounts. New evidence could also emerge in the Levy case.

But without forensic evidence linking Miss Levy and Mr. Guandique or an eyewitness account, the Levy case offers weaknesses the defense could pounce on, say several attorneys not connected to the case.

“It’s long on witnesses and short on direct evidence that Guandique had anything to do with this,” said David Benowitz, a criminal defense attorney who once worked as a public defender in the District of Columbia.

The same team of prosecutors and detectives working on the Levy case last year solved the 1996 D.C. slaying of Shaquita Bell, even though her body has never been found and no one saw the killing take place.

Michael Dickerson, Miss Bell’s ex-boyfriend and a convicted felon, pleaded guilty in October to killing her after authorities lined up evidence from ballistics, past domestic violence and witnesses who saw the couple argue.

Thomas A. “Tad” DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor in the District who now runs the Web site nobodymurdercases.com, recalled many other cases in which suspects were convicted even though a body was never found and no witnesses actually saw the killing.

“You line all these things up and that ends up being quite powerful and difficult for the defense to deal with,” Mr. DiBiase said.

The Levy investigation has been problematic since it began. Critics have long pointed to early missteps such as the police department’s failure to find Miss Levy’s body until a year after the Modesto, Calif., resident disappeared.

Some former investigators also say police remained too focused on former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, the California Democrat who conceded to being romantically involved with Miss Levy. Mr. Condit lost his bid for re-election in 2002.

Mr. Guandique is accused of sexually assaulting and killing Miss Levy on a trail in Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001. By the time her remains were found, they were so decomposed that valuable evidence was essentially lost.

The March 3 arrest warrant and affidavit make no mention of DNA or other forensic evidence pointing to Mr. Guandique. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said that there was no physical evidence linking Mr. Guandique to the crime, but that the “cumulative weight” of circumstantial evidence led investigators to him.

Mr. Guandique has been serving a 10-year federal prison term in California for two other attacks in Rock Creek Park, where authorities say he attacked Miss Levy. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials said he was moved to a federal transfer center in Oklahoma City on Thursday.

Authorities have said they can’t give a date for Mr. Guandique’s arrival in Washington, but they expected the U.S. Marshals Service to transfer him to the District within 30 to 60 days of the arrest warrant date.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said a grand jury will convene to consider indicting Mr. Guandique, but he could not say when. In the District, suspects must be indicted within nine months of being charged.

Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, Mr. Guandique’s public defenders, have called the investigation “flawed.”

Some criminal defense attorneys say prosecutors, lacking forensic evidence and eyewitnesses, are relying too heavily on secondhand witnesses.

None of the witnesses is named, but police have described some of them. There’s an ex-girlfriend who says they argued and that Mr. Guandique occasionally hit, grabbed and bit her. Then there are the two women he is convicted of attacking, along with another woman who was walking in the park and believes he followed her around the time Miss Levy went missing. Another witness is merely the dog-walker who discovered Miss Levy’s remains a year after her disappearance.

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