- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2016

D.C. prosecutors on Thursday dropped charges against the Salvadoran illegal immigrant previously convicted of the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, saying new developments have derailed their ability to make the case against him a second time around.

Citing “recent unforeseen developments” in their bid to retry Ingmar Guandique, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District announced it had moved to dismiss the case, and D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Morin signed off on a dismissal order hours later.

Without disclosing the specifics of the recent developments, prosecutors issued a statement: “The Office has concluded that it can no longer prove the murder case against Mr. Guandique beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Levy’s 2001 disappearance became a national news story when it was revealed the Capitol Hill intern had a romantic relationship with Gary Condit, then a Democratic congressman from California.

Police cleared Mr. Condit as a suspect, but the investigation went cold for years until prosecutors charged Guandique in her death in 2009 — drawing comparisons between attacks he had carried out against two other women.

Guandique was convicted of Levy’s murder in 2010 and sentenced to 60 years in prison. But the D.C. Public Defender Service pursued a new trial after prosecutors disclosed information in 2013 that raised doubts about the testimony of their star witness — jailhouse informant Armando Morales.

Morales testified during the 2010 trial that Guandique had admitted to killing Levy while the two were cellmates. With no physical evidence linking Guandique to the crime scene, Morales’ testimony proved crucial to the conviction.

Defense attorneys said Morales lied when he testified he had never previously provided information to law enforcement in other criminal cases.

Laura Hankins, general counsel for the D.C. Public Defenders Service, issued a statement Thursday that said it took years to uncover the multitude of flaws in the government’s case.

“In 2009 the trial prosecutors brought charges knowing their case depended on the most unreliable evidence: a jailhouse informant. In 2010 the trial prosecutors convinced a jury to convict by deliberately hiding evidence that would have exposed the false testimony of their star witness,” Ms. Hankins said. “It is now clear that the jailhouse informant, who was central to the government’s case, was a perjurer who too easily manipulated the prosecutors.”

Levy, 24, disappeared May 1, 2001, after leaving her apartment in jogging clothes. The Modesto, California, native’s remains were found in 2002 in a heavily wooded area of Rock Creek Park.

Guandique was charged in her death in 2009 just as he was close to completing a jail sentence for assaults on two joggers who had been attacked in Rock Creek Park. During the trial, prosecutors drew parallels to the two other women Guandique attacked at about the same time that Levy went missing.

In court filings and hearings over the course of the last several years, the public defender’s office has raised questions over evidence that prosecutors had during the trial but failed to disclose — including audiotape of a 911 call previously not made available to them about a “blood-curdling scream” heard in Levy’s apartment building the morning she disappeared.

“Justice would have been better and more timely served had the government provided open file discovery to the defense before the trial and if the government had fully investigated its own witnesses,” Ms. Hankins said.

The U.S. attorney’s office said the new developments in the case had been investigated over the past week. Spokesman Bill Miller declined to discuss the details.

A trial readiness hearing was held last week in D.C. Superior Court, at which online court records indicate that prosecutors and defense attorneys discussed numerous matters including FBI documents that had been turned over to the defense, the disclosure of the government’s grand jury testimony of witnesses that did not testify during trial and video footage of three incidents involving Morales.

Guandique has remained in jail awaiting retrial, which had been scheduled for October. With the approval of the dismissal order, the U.S. attorney’s office said Guandique will be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be deported.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, which originally investigated the case, said the decision to dismiss charges was the sole discretion of prosecutors.

“MPD will continue to pursue any new leads that are uncovered or brought to our attention,” spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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