- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

Washington-area lawyers disagree on whether the evidence disclosed by officials so far against Chandra Levy murder suspect Ingmar Guandique presents a significant challenge to prosecutors hoping to close the District’s most notorious cold case.

“This is not a slam dunk,” said D.C. defense lawyer and former homicide detective Ted Williams. “To really have a bona fide case against this guy, they need to either have some very strong circumstantial evidence, or they need to have some physical evidence where they can tie him to this murder.”

City officials Tuesday issued a warrant for the arrest of Guandique, 27. The laborer and illegal immigrant is serving a 10-year sentence in California for assaulting two women in 2001, and officials expect him to be charged in the District in the coming months with first-degree murder in the death of Miss Levy, a 24-year-old federal intern last seen April 30, 2001.

The disappearance of Miss Levy, of Modesto, Calif., became a major national story when it was revealed she was having a romantic relationship with her hometown congressman, then-Rep. Gary A. Condit, a Democrat.

Federal and city officials have been tight-lipped about the evidence against Guandique, except in the arrest-warrant affidavit, which includes graphic statements reportedly made by the suspect to witnesses regarding his crimes - some of which could come under scrutiny in the courtroom.

Jeffrey A. Taylor, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, acknowledges the circumstantial nature of the prosecution’s disclosed evidence, but pointed to its “cumulative weight” in making a strong case against Guandique.

Officials have not disclosed DNA evidence, which is unlikely considering Miss Levy’s body and the crime scene in Rock Creek Park were not found until about 13 months later. Investigator think Guandique attacked Miss Levy as she walked or jogged on a trail.

Guandique was interviewed by police shortly after Miss Levy’s disappearance, but there is no reports of DNA-related evidence being collected.

Victoria Toensing, a partner at the D.C. firm diGenova & Toensing LLP, said the prosecution’s case has “every kind of bit of evidence that you need.”

However, in the seven-page affidavit, Guandique reportedly told one witness that as Miss Levy struggled for her freedom after being attacked by him and two teenage males, he grabbed her by the neck and choked her to death. The story falls in line with the finding of forensic pathologist Michael Baden, who told Fox News that he examined Miss Levy’s remains at the request of the family and found a broken hyoid bone and evidence that she may have been strangled.

But the affidavit also states Guandique told a witness that he and two other men attacked an Italian-looking woman, presumably Miss Levy, and that when she began to regain consciousness he “cut her throat and stabbed her.” That version appears to contradict the findings of David Hunt of the Smithsonian Institution, who the affidavit states found that Miss Levy’s bones had “no evidence of nicks.”

The suspect also reportedly told a witness about being a member of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a notorious and largely Salvadoran gang.

In the affidavit, Guandique recounts to a witness how he and other gang members committed crimes, including rapes, against women. Investigators describe Guandique as having numerous gang-related tattoos, including the words “Mara Salvatrucha” on his neck. But an arrest report from May 2001, when Guandique was taken into custody in a burglary case and near the time of Miss Levy’s death, lists him as having no visible tattoos.

Robert A. Bermingham Jr., gang-prevention coordinator for Fairfax County, said Miss Levy’s death does not appear as “a typical gang crime.”

“Innocent victims don’t generally occur,” he said.

If Guandique indeed had accomplices in Miss Levy’s killing, it would be a departure from how he stalked and attacked the two other women in Rock Creek Park.

Mark J. Carroll, a retired assistant U.S. attorney, said the accomplices may be another embellishment to “play down” the suspect’s involvement. “If anything, he’s plea-bargaining ahead of time,” he said.

There is the mistake-prone investigation, in which authorities focused too much on Mr. Condit as a possible suspect, failed to promptly interview key witnesses and miscommunicated about where to search for Miss Levy’s body. In addition, Guandique passed a polygraph test during the first round of police interviews after a fellow inmate said Guandique had confessed to the killing.

“The prosecution will have to persuade a jury to excuse the investigative missteps and find that the evidence still points to Mr. Guandique,” said Michael Starr, a defense lawyer with the D.C. firm Schertler & Onorato LLP.

Other lawyers agree that the weight of evidence makes a strong case. That evidence, according to documents, includes Guandique’s other attacks being close to where Miss Levy’s body was found; his admitting talking about the “girl who’s dead” with a witness during a recorded conversation; and him saying “it’s over” when learning of his likely arrest in the case.

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