Chandra Levy trial: Jury selection begins today

Oct 18, 2010

Washington Post staff writer Keith Alexander will be online Monday, Oct. 18, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the beginning of jury selection for the trial of Ingmar Guandique, the man authorities believe killed federal intern Chandra Levy.

Levy disappeared while jogging in Rock Creek Park in 2001. Her case drew national attention, in part because she had been having an affair with then-Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who represented the district that includes her home town of Modesto.

A trial in Chandra Levy's death

Keith Alexander will be with us momentarily.

Greetings everyone.  Let's get to your questions.

I'm curious as to why he is expected to testify at the trial. I thought it was pretty obvious by now that he had nothing to do with it.

Condit's name was mentioned by the prosecution this morning as a possible witness or someone whose name will be mentioned often in this trial. Prosecutors may want to call Condit to fully explain to jury why he is not a suspect. Also, Condit was one of the last people to see Levy alive.

I am one of many who had a family member disappear, in my case my 24-year-old brother, but received only a cursory police investigation and no publicity at all because we are not wealthy and he was not involved in an adulterous affair with a married celebrity. While I certainly feel for the Levy's grief, I can't help but resent their very favored treatment, in which the Post played a major part.

First, I am very sorry to hear about your brother. One of the issues that made this such a huge media story (I think) was the fact that Levy was having an affair with a popular member of  Congress when she disappeared. I believe if she were not involved with Condit, the story would not have garnered as much media attention.


Realistically speaking is there anything this trial can result to that might offer the relief of closure to the family?

When I interviewed the Levys for today's story, they were adament that there is no such thing as "closure" when it comes to a parent grieving over a child who was murdered. I think the trial will give them some answers. And if Guandique is convicted, some satisfaction that someone was held accountable for their daughter's slaying, but that's about all.

It seems the Levy family is not entirely convinced of Guandique's guilt. Are you aware of any evidence pointing in another direction? How convinced are you that the authorities have the right man?

Mrs. Levy isn't enitrely convinced that Condit was not involved in her daughter's murder, even though police and prosecutors have said he was not a suspect. Mrs. Levy has some very strong opinions about Condit, most of which may stem from the relationship he had with her daughter.

Prosecutors have a very difficult job ahead of them in proving Guandique is the right guy. There is no forensic evidence, no eyewitnesses and only alleged confessions he made to his fellow inmates about killing Levy. Prosecutors also believe because Guandique admitted to attacking two women in Rock Creek Park around the time Levy was killed, he's their guy. There's also a possibilty that prosecutors have other evidence that they plan to unfold during the trial. We'll see.

Is there any physical evidence linking Guandique to this case?


How sure is the prosecution's case against the suspect in the Levy case? There is no DNA and are no witnesses. How difficult is it to convict someone based on circumstantial evidence?

Very difficult in this city. Jurors want physical evidence, forensic, DNA, eye witnesses, ear witnesses, often more than just hearsay, especially hearsay from other prisoners.

We they able to select a jury? And when is Guandique scheduled to be released from his original conviction?

They are still in the jury selection process. They dismissed about 10 prospective jurors this morning because they had conflicts that would not allow them to sit on a 4 to 5-week trial. It will probably take the remainder of the week before they find 14 jurors who have not already formed an opinion about this case based on media coverage, or who don't have some type of bias against Levy, Guandique, Condit, police, lawyers, the government, etc.

Where is Guandique from and is he an illegal immigrant?

El Salvador. And yes, he is an illegal immigrant.

Keith: With cases such as this, I always wonder how they can find 12 people who have no pre-conceived notions about who is guilty or not. Did the defense make any move for a change of venue and would the prosecution opposed such a motion? Thanks.

Yes, the defense did request a change of venue and Judge Gerald Fisher denied the request. Such requests are rarely granted with D. C. Superior Court Cases.

The long investigative series the Post did on Who Killed Chandra Levy was very good and, in some part, seemed to get the police to look into Guandique as a suspect again. Will any of the Post's investigation figure into the courtroom case?

Yes, my colleagues Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz did an incredible job on the series and the book, Finding Chandra. Not sure if any of their work will be directly cited during the trial. Unlikely though.

What do you know of the defense of Guandique? Does the defense plan to attack the circumstantial evidence? is there a strong alibi? Character witnesses?

The defense is going to attack the witnesses who were Guandique's cellmates and fellow inmates who claim Guandique admitted to them that he killed Levy. The defense plans to argue, in part, that these witnesses are biased, hoping to gain favor from the government with their own cases. Also, one of the witnesses, allegedly, was sexually assaulted by Guandique when they were in prison together. So the defense plans to argue that he too has a bias against their client.

Do you think there is there additional evidence that hasn't been reported in the media yet? Otherwise, seems like it is going to be tough to convince a jury he's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Good question. I think we know most of the evidence. But Amanda Haines, the lead prosecutor, is good. I bet she has a few cards up her sleeve that she has not played  yet (please forgive that overused metaphor).

Going on an assumption that Guandique is acquited in this case, he's still in prison for other assaults, right? How much remaining time does he have on his earlier sentence and when he is released - if he is - will he be deported?

In 2002, he was sentenced to 10 years. So he  has about another year or two remaining, depending on if they credit any of his time served.

Please forgive me if you have provided this information previously, but I was curious who is presenting the defendant in this trial. If it's a public defender, I can only contrast that with the last "celebrity" trial we've had in this area, the Wone trial. Those defendants had top drawer lawyers, and some of us (like me) think that was determinative in the result. Thanks.

Guandique is represented by two very dogged attorneys with the District's Public Defender Service. Santha Sonenberg represents some of the District's most violent accused defendants. And has won. She's a veteran with the PDS. Maria Hawilo is less experienced than Sonenberg, but is very well versed in DNA and other forensic areas.

Was there any DNA found at the scene where Levy's remains were found?

No DNA was found at the scene. Actually the defense attorneys aren't convinced Levy was killed in the park. At one hearing, they told the judge they believe her body or remains were dumped in the park.

With numerous murders in DC yearly; why should we care about this case? Do the Levy's still believe Gary Gondit was involved in Chandra's murder?

I think readers should care about this case primarly because a young girl was killed in this city. I think people should "care" as you say about whenever a person is murdered. The extent to which you care is obviously up to each individual person. Yes, the Levys still believe, or at least Susan Levy, Chandra's mother, believes Condit may have been involved with their daughter's murder. But she's hoping the trial will give answer her questions and rest her concerns.

Without DNA evidence it would seem very hard to convict this suspect based upon discussions in a jail. Am I missing something? Thoughts?

That's the big question. We'll see if the prosecution can answer it.

Every time I read one of these articles I'm struck by how the family is portrayed. The mom especially seems totally stuck and unable to move on. I feel bad for the son--it seems he's an afterthought and all emotion goes to Chandra. Every family grieves in its own way, but wow.

Indeed, every family grieves in their own way, which is what the Levys said to me so many times during the time I spent with them. I wouldnt say Chandra's brother Adam is an afterthought. He's trying to move on with his life and doesn't want the spotlight.

Thanks everyone for your questions and my apologies for not getting to all of them. Got to get back to the courtroom.  We think opening arguments will begin next Monday.  But we'll keep you posted.

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Keith Alexander
Keith Alexander is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
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