By Sari Horwitz and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 29, 2002
Detectives in the Chandra Levy murder case are focusing on a man convicted of assaulting two women jogging in Rock Creek Park last year -- a suspect who was initially discounted after he passed a polygraph test that investigators now believe was flawed.
Ingmar A. Guandique, 21, has been in prison for the assaults on the joggers since July 2001, two months after Levy disappeared. After her remains were found in the park May 22, some investigators reexamining his case were struck by the similarities in the three crime scenes, law enforcement sources said.
Investigators then discovered that a Spanish-speaking interpreter instead of a bilingual polygraph technician was used in administering Guandique's polygraph, sources said. Relying on an interpreter, according to legal experts, can skew the results of the test because the questions are filtered through and possibly altered by the interpreter.
The clothes Guandique was wearing when he was arrested July 1, 2001, were sent to the FBI laboratory in Washington for DNA tests, according to law enforcement sources. He wore the same dark, knee-length baggy shorts with a white stripe on each side during both attacks of which he was convicted, according to police reports.
Guandique's brother, Huber, who lives in the Washington area, said investigators have interviewed him four times over the past month and a half, each time pressing him to turn over any clothing belonging to Ingmar. The two did not live together at the time of the assaults, and Huber Guandique said he told police that he does not have anything belonging to his brother.
Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant, has become the focus of the Levy probe because the attacks on the joggers occurred not far from where her body was found and because of the violent nature of the assaults, according to law enforcement sources.
In a pre-sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina L. Ament called Guandique "a predator" who, armed with a knife, used the isolated portions of the park "as a hunting ground, waiting beside popular running trails, selecting victims and stalking them."
Levy's skeletal remains were discovered May 22, a little more than a year after she vanished, in an isolated pocket of the park about a half-mile from where Guandique attacked one jogger and less than two miles from where he attacked another.
Conflicting Theories There is no evidence linking Guandique or anyone else to the 17-month-old case, but the focus on him has reenergized a probe that appeared to have stalled. A team of D.C. police, FBI agents and prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office is conducting the investigation.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey cautioned that investigators don't know whether Guandique was involved, but said, "He's someone we're interested in."
In May, authorities played down Guandique as a suspect because Levy had been killed before his attacks on the joggers -- who fought back and escaped without serious injury. They theorized that someone who already had killed would have been more violent with the later victims. Also, the two joggers looked strikingly similar, tall and blond, while Levy was a petite brunet.
But investigators now believe that opportunity, not how the women looked, was a key factor in the attacks, according to law enforcement sources. They still are not sure why Levy was in the park, because family and friends say she was not a jogger and didn't like to go there alone. Some investigators have speculated that she went for a long walk, possibly to see the Nature Center, or was in the park to meet someone.
The renewed interest in Guandique has shifted some attention away from Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who was romantically involved with the 24-year-old former federal intern at the time she disappeared. Investigators have not interviewed him since Levy's remains were found, though Ramsey said, "We have not excluded anyone."
A D.C. Superior Court grand jury is investigating the Levy homicide and allegations that Condit obstructed the investigation. The grand jury subpoenaed him to appear April 12, according to sources. He showed up at the U.S. attorney's office but cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not testify before the panel, the sources said.
Guandique, in a plea bargain agreement, admitted trying to rob the joggers, one on May 14, 2001 -- two weeks after Levy disappeared -- and the other on July 1, 2001. At his sentencing Feb. 8, D.C. Superior Court Judge Noel A. Kramer said the attacks appeared to be more than attempted robberies.
Guandique "went out of his way for a physical encounter that ended up, at least in one instance, out of sight, in a ravine in Rock Creek Park," the judge said, according to a transcript. "This is not a run-of-the-mill robbery. . . . Mr. Guandique is ready to terrorize people, ready to have a physical encounter. . . . [H]e is highly dangerous."
Kramer said Guandique never stole anything from the women, not even their portable tape players, items he told police he was trying to take when he attacked them. "There is more here than a Walkman," the judge said.
In a similarity noted by law enforcement authorities, Levy's Walkman also was found with her remains.
A Tip Discounted D.C. police first spoke to Guandique about the Levy case in the summer of 2001 after U.S. Park Police alerted them to his arrest in the jogger assaults, according to court records. But law enforcement sources said they found nothing to indicate he was involved in her disappearance, especially since, at the time, they weren't aware that her body was in the park.
After Guandique's arrest, an inmate at the D.C. jail told authorities that Guandique had confided in him that he stabbed Levy and left her body in the park, law enforcement sources said. The inmate didn't try to trade the information for a lighter sentence, saying he came forward because he felt bad for the Levy family.
In September 2001, the inmate failed a polygraph test, also administered through an interpreter. Guandique, who denied involvement in the Levy case, passed, the sources said, and authorities felt comfortable that he was not their man.
When Levy's body was found eight months later, Guandique's name surfaced as someone who had attacked women in the park. High-ranking police, knowing that detectives had discounted him because of the polygraph, played him down as a suspect, with Ramsey scolding, "The press is making too big a deal of it."
Ramsey's then-deputy, Terrance W. Gainer, was more blunt: "He wasn't our suspect then. He's not our suspect now."
Ramsey last week defended the use of the interpreter. "When you've got language issues, it's not unusual to use a translator," he said.
But Billy Franklin, director of the Virginia School of Polygraph in Norfolk, said he prefers not to use interpreters because if they don't pose the questions correctly, the answers can be wrong.
"In such an important case, they should have used a bilingual examiner if possible," he said.
James Starrs, professor of law and forensic science at George Washington University, contends that because lie detector tests can be unreliable, they shouldn't always determine the course of an investigation.
"Simply because someone passes the test, they shouldn't be written off, absolutely not," he said.
Authorities have talked to some of Guandique's relatives and friends and want to interview him again. But he has signed a letter saying that he will not talk without his lawyer. He declined to be interviewed for this story, and his attorney did not return phone calls.
Police interviewed Condit four times last year, talked to his wife and staff members, searched his apartment, took DNA samples and subpoenaed his bank, credit card and phone records. He declined to take a polygraph test administered by authorities; instead, his attorney arranged in summer 2001 for him to take one given by retired FBI agent Barry Colvert, who passed him.
Though authorities were skeptical of the results, Colvert said last week that he was "very comfortable" with the test. "We covered everything in my questions."
Attacks on the Trail According to court records, including written statements from Guandique's victims, the park assaults were remarkably similar. He went to Rock Creek Park, fell in behind the women as they were jogging in isolated sections of the park, jumped them and pulled them to the ground. In both attacks, he brandished a knife.
"I began screaming as loud as I could," wrote the first victim, 30, who had taken a self-defense course. "We continued to wrestle. He shushed me. I continued to scream, knowing that the cars driving by on Beach Drive . . . well hidden from view by the trees, were drowning out my voice. . . . I do not doubt for a minute that he purposefully stalked me as a hunter tracks his prey."
In the second attack, Guandique pulled the woman off the trail.
"When my attacker dragged me into the ravine, holding a knife against my throat and covering my mouth, I thought and still think today that he was going to rape me or try to kill me," the woman, 26, wrote. "I feared for my life. What struck me most was that within 10 seconds, I was off the jogging path in the woods . . . out of sight of any passersby."
Her assailant "was extremely strong, and with his hand cutting off my air and the knife at my throat I didn't feel I could struggle for very long. He was a bold and practiced attacker . . . [who] waited until he thought I was fatigued from jogging up a hill and purposely selected a secluded spot right next to a deep ravine."
As in the first attack, the woman was able to break away and flee. Cut and bruised, she flagged down a motorist and reported the incident to the U.S. Park Police, who arrested Guandique about 45 minutes later at Joyce Road and 16th Street NW. She identified him. Under questioning, he told police about the earlier incident.
Guandique denied having a knife and said the women probably mistook his gold bracelet as a weapon. He pleaded guilty in September 2001 to two counts of assault with intent to commit robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was confined to a prison in North Carolina, then sent this month to a federal prison in Atlanta. Last week, he was transferred to a facility in Manchester, Ky.
From El Salvador to Trouble Friends and family in El Salvador say that until Guandique went to the United States, he did not have any problems with the law and was "an honorable young man." He comes from a poor farming hamlet near the city of San Miguel, had to quit school after the seventh grade to work, and came to this country illegally in January 2000.
Once here, they say, he struggled to repay some debts and send money home. At the time of his arrest, he lived on Somerset Place NW, about a block from Rock Creek Golf Course, and worked as a day laborer doing construction and carpentry and cutting grass. He had problems with alcohol and "significant drug issues," according to court records.
There was one brush with the law before the assaults. On May 7, 2001, Guandique, then 19, was arrested for burglarizing an apartment that day in his neighborhood and stealing jewelry. He was released pending trial. A week later, he attacked the first jogger.
At his sentencing, Guandique said he was "sincerely repentant for the two offenses I committed." The Levy case was mentioned, but prosecutor Ament said a lie detector test helped "diffuse" suspicions that Guandique was involved.
In an undated letter from prison, Guandique asked his mother and grandfather in El Salvador to forgive him. Of his siblings back home, he wrote, "I hope they take advantage of life and that they never get into problems because it is not easy to be in jail."
Condit, who was defeated for reelection in his party's primary, declined to be interviewed. His attorney, Mark Geragos, said, "I would hope beyond hope they are looking at persons who make the most sense in terms of being a suspect, and it's certainly not my client."
Billy Martin, the attorney for the Levy family, said his team of lawyers, forensic experts and private investigators is continuing the murder probe. Joe McCann and Dwayne Stanton, who found one of Levy's leg bones after police completed the first search of the crime scene, recently found a hard contact lens at the site and turned it over to police for DNA tests. It is unclear whether the item is connected to the case.
"The Levy family will never be satisfied until they find answers to who killed Chandra and that person is brought to justice," Martin said.
Staff writer Sylvia Moreno reported from El Salvador.