- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Authorities focused on the wrong man when they began investigating the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy, and they never found the right one, an attorney for the man charged with killing Levy said in closing arguments Tuesday.

Investigators eager to ensnare a high-profile defendant initially targeted then-Rep. Gary A. Condit, California Democrat, but now acknowledge he had nothing to do with Levy’s 2001 disappearance and death. Defense attorneys say authorities have proven themselves just as hapless by trying to pin the crime on Ingmar Guandique, a 29-year-old illegal Salvadoran immigrant.

“Back in 2001, the tunnel vision in this case was with regard to Mr. Condit,” public defender Santha Sonenberg told jurors. “By 2008, 2009, the tunnel vision had changed and it focused on our client.”

A jury must now decide whether Guandique is guilty of murder and kidnapping; prosecutors previously dropped an attempted sexual-assault charge.

Tuesday’s closing arguments followed a monthlong trial in a case that was a media sensation during the summer of 2001. The media focus became particularly intense after the 24-year-old Levy was linked romantically to the married Mr. Condit, who was subsequently identified as a possible suspect.

Levy’s remains were found in 2002 in Washington’s Rock Creek Park, where she had gone jogging before her disappearance. By the time of the discovery, the case suffered from a dearth of evidence. There is no physical evidence or eyewitnesses linking Guandique to the killing.

But prosecutors say they have built a powerful circumstantial case against Guandique, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for attacking two female joggers in Rock Creek Park around the time of Levy’s disappearance. The women, both of whom were larger than Levy, fought off Guandique. Prosecutors say the attacks fit a pattern that includes Levy’s killing.

Prosecutors also pointed to a prison cellmate who testified that Guandique confessed to killing Levy. “Justice is what needs to happen for this young girl,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines told the jury while holding up a smiling photo of Levy. “She’s been waiting nine years for justice.”

Ms. Haines told jurors to use their common sense and to accept the testimony of Armando Morales, the cellmate of Guandique. Morales testified that Guandique, a reputed member of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, was scared of being labeled a rapist by other inmates, and admitted killing Levy, but denied raping her.

Ms. Haines said Morales’ testimony included details that prove the confession was not fabricated. Morales said Guandique told him he attacked Levy from behind, the same method that was used against the other two women assaulted by Guandique. He is also said to have admitted to Morales that he had attacked other women who had fought him back.

But defense attorneys were extremely dubious of Morales’ testimony.

They argued that Morales concocted the confession story to curry favor with prosecutors after seeing a report on CNN that Guandique was about to be indicted for Levy’s murder.

In fact, Ms. Sonenberg, the public defender, said there is powerful evidence of Guandique’s innocence, including male DNA from an unknown source that was found on Levy’s black running tights. The DNA matches neither Guandique nor Condit, and Guandique’s DNA was never found on anything connected to Levy.

Prosecutors argue that the DNA likely came from contamination by someone who handled Levy’s tights as evidence. But Ms. Sonenberg pointed out that the government could have checked the DNA against anybody who handled the tights, but apparently failed to do so.

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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