Guandique jurors knew of Chandra Levy case

Every one of the people who made up the jury in the 2010 trial of the man who killed Chandra Levy had heard about the missing and murdered former federal intern long before they were selected, according to newly released court documents.

Details of the backgrounds of the 12 jurors and four alternates in the trial of Ingmar Guandique were made public Wednesday. The information, contained in questionnaires filled out by the jurors, offers insight into the backgrounds of the individuals who found Guandique guilty of first-degree felony murder in Levy’s death.

Levy’s body was found in Rock Creek Park in 2001. Guandique, 30, was sentenced to 60 years in prison. His attorneys are appealing the verdict.

Of the 16 jurors, 15 attended at least some college. Their average age was 47. Seven lived in Northwest, three lived in Southeast and six lived in Northeast.

All of the jurors had some knowledge of the case, and about half were also familiar with the Salvadoran criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha — also known as MS-13 — of which Guandique was a member.

Some of the jurors had extensive legal backgrounds. Two worked for the Justice Department and one woman had dated a police officer for six years.

One juror admitted to “negative” feelings about illegal immigrants. Guandique was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador.

In pretrial hearings, Guandique’s attorneys had petitioned for a change of venue, fearing that they would not be able to find 16 jurors who were not familiar with the case, which had been heavily covered in the local and national news media. D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher denied the request.

Most judges instruct potential jurors that knowledge about a case is not enough to be disqualified. In this case, using questions posed by the prosecutors and defense attorneys, attorneys focused on whether the jurors had already formed an opinion about Guandique’s guilt or innocence based on the news coverage.

The questionnaires were released nearly a week after the D.C. Court of Appeals decided that Fisher erred when he ruled against releasing the questionnaires to the public after repeated news media requests.

The Washington Post and other news outlets filed suit, arguing that not releasing them infringed on the news media’s First Amendment rights. In a 20-page decision, three appellate judges sided with the media.

After the appellate court’s decision, Fisher called the 16 jurors and alerted them that he was going to release the 60-question surveys to the media.

Fisher removed answers to only one question: whether the juror, any family member or close friend, had been a victim of, or accused of, a sexual assault. Some jurors had expressed concern about that answer being made public.

As the jurors were filling out the questionnaires, Fisher promised the jurors that their answers would remain confidential. Such a promise, the court later ruled, “does not trump the First Amendment right of access.”

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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