Chandra Levy verdict: Suspect found guilty in 2001 death of DC intern

Chandra Levy verdict of guilty for a man already in jail for attacking two female joggers. The Chandra Levy verdict brings to a close a nearly decade-long case.

Susan Walsh/AP Photo
Susan Levy, mother of murdered Washington intern Chandra Levy, speaks outside D.C. Superior Court in Washington, Nov. 22. The Chandra Levy verdict was returned Monday with a jury finding Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique guilty of murdering Chandra Levy back in 2001.

A man already imprisoned for attacking two female joggers was found guilty Monday of murdering Washington intern Chandra Levy back in 2001, bringing legal resolution to a murder mystery that took down a congressman and drew the nation's rapt attention a decade ago.

Ingmar Guandique was convicted of first-degree murder for attacking Levy while she exercised in Washington's Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Her disappearance made headlines when she was romantically linked to then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. Condit was once a suspect, but police no longer believe he was involved.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Levy's mother said she'll never be free from the pain of losing her daughter.

"I have a lifetime sentence of a lost limb missing from our family tree," Susan Levy said after the hearing. "It's a lifetime of a broken heart."

Investigators eventually focused on Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, and brought formal charges last year. Prosecutors acknowledged they had little direct evidence but said Levy's death fit a pattern of other crimes committed by Guandique in the park.

The defense argued that Guandique (gwahn-DEE-kay) became a scapegoat for a botched investigation. Levy's body was found about a year after she disappeared.

In a telephone interview, Condit's lawyer Bert Fields said the verdict represents a vindication that comes too late to repair the damage to his client's career.

"At least Gary Condit can find some measure of closure to this nightmare," Fields said. "It's a complete vindication but that comes a little late. Who gives him his career back?" Fields said his client wasn't going to speak to reporters.

The jury deliberated over parts of four days before returning with a verdict shortly before noon Monday. Guandique was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, one alleging death as part of a kidnapping and one alleging the death as part of an attempted robbery. Jurors had the option of convicting him on a lesser charge of second-degree murder.

Guandique could be sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of life in prison. Sentencing was set for Feb. 11.

Defense lawyer Santha Sonenberg declined comment on whether Guandique would appeal the verdict. Prosecutors said they would issue a statement later in the day.

Guandique stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, and he shook his head as he left the courtroom. As he has throughout the trial, he wore a turtleneck that covered his gang tattoos,

Levy's mother squinted and took notes during the hearing, then craned her neck to observe Guandique's reaction to the reading of the verdict.

"It makes a difference to find the right person who is responsible for my daughter's death," she said afterward.

While she was glad to have been at the hearing, she added: "I can certainly tell you, it ain't closure."

Prosecutors Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez obtained a conviction even though they had no eyewitnesses and no DNA evidence linking Guandique to Levy. And Guandique never confessed to police. Prosecutors hung their hopes in large part on a former cellmate of Guandique, Armando Morales, who testified that Guandique confided in him that he killed Levy.

Morales said Guandique was worried about being labeled a rapist by fellow inmates if word got out that he was a suspect in the Levy case. According to Morales, Guandique admitted killing Levy as part of an attempted robbery, but said he never raped her.

The government also presented testimony from two women who were attacked by Guandique in May and July of 2001 in Rock Creek Park. In both cases, Guandique attacked the women from behind while they jogged on isolated trails but ran off after each woman fought him off.

Defense attorneys said Morales' testimony couldn't be trusted. They also pointed to DNA from an unknown male that was found on Levy's black running tights. The DNA matched neither Guandique nor Condit, and the defense said it was powerful evidence that the wrong person was on trial. Prosecutors argued the DNA was the result of contamination during the testing process.

Juror Linda Norton said the panel went through all of the evidence "in a very deliberate manner" and discussed everything thoroughly. Those comments were echoed by fellow juror Susan Kelly, a journalist, who said "we were very careful to evaluate all the evidence, and it was a decision based on everything that we had."

The monthlong trial featured testimony from Condit himself, who denied any involvement in Levy's disappearance or death. But as he has for the past decade, he refused to answer whether he had an affair with Levy, saying he was entitled to some privacy. Even though defense lawyers asked him several times on cross-examination, he refused to answer and the judge never required him to do so.

However, during the trial an FBI forensic expert testified that Condit's DNA was found on Levy's underwear recovered from her apartment, but was not found anywhere at the crime scene where her remains were discovered.

In their closing arguments, the defense indirectly pointed a finger at Condit, suggesting that he acted "like a guilty man" throughout the investigation by trying to cover up his affair with Levy and refusing to answer questions to a grand jury. Prosecutors said he was simply trying to protect his reputation.

Guandique, 29, listened to the entire proceedings through headphones providing a Spanish interpretation. His legs were shackled through the trial, though that was hidden from jurors' view.

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