By Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 22, 2009
D.C. police are seeking an arrest warrant against a Salvadoran immigrant in connection with the eight-year-old slaying of federal intern Chandra Levy, one of the most famous unsolved homicide cases in Washington history, according to law enforcement sources.
Levy's parents said D.C. police officials told them late Friday that they planned to make an arrest within "the next couple of days."
In an interview yesterday, Susan Levy, Chandra's mother, said she was told by D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Lt. Michael Farish, a supervisor of the department's cold-case squad, that investigators had made a breakthrough.
The case has been bedeviled by furious media attention and costly police mistakes. Levy, who was a 24-year-old intern for the federal Bureau of Prisons, was having an affair with Gary A. Condit, a married congressman from California, when she vanished. Police initially focused on Condit.
He was not charged and lost a reelection bid in 2002. He has long maintained that he had nothing to do with Levy's disappearance.
Sources with knowledge of the case and speaking under the condition of anonymity said police are moving toward arresting Ingmar Guandique, 27. About the time of Levy's disappearance in May 2001, Guandique, a day laborer, attacked two women at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park, where Levy's remains were found a year later. Guandique is serving a 10-year sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary-Victorville in Adelanto, Calif., for the two attacks.
Levy said Lanier told her that "in all her 19 years of police work, this is really big -- 'We really came down with a break.' They're very proud."
Levy said she and her husband, Robert, were still processing the information.
"It's a bittersweet relief," she said. "Not that we'll ever get our daughter back, but we need the truth."
Local television stations in Washington and California began reporting late Friday that an arrest was possible.
The Levys said Lanier did not tell them who the suspect is. Lanier issued a statement yesterday declining to comment. "The Metropolitan Police Department has no information available for release in this ongoing investigation. This case generated bits of information, which we continued to follow up on."
The police probe into Levy's killing ramped up in recent months after The Washington Post in July published a 13-part serial narrative investigation into the case that pointed to Guandique as the most likely suspect. He has denied involvement in Levy's death.
"Regarding the girl, Chandra Levy: I don't know anything about that case," he told The Post in an interview from prison last year. "I had never seen her, and I don't understand the reason why the police started to suspect me. . . . I have nothing to do with the death of that girl. I am innocent, and I am not afraid of the police investigation."
Guandique is being represented by the U.S. Public Defender Service. Avis E. Buchanan, its director, declined to discuss the case last night.
The Post report contained numerous revelations. The newspaper interviewed a U.S. Park Police detective who questioned Guandique at the time of his arrest and said he had shown the suspect a photograph of Levy. The detective said Guandique admitted seeing Levy in the park before she vanished.
Since the end of last summer, D.C. detectives and prosecutors have been building a case against Guandique.
Prosecutors have convened a grand jury in the District, and new detectives and a prosecutor assigned to the case have been interviewing witnesses and examining evidence. The detectives submitted some of Guandique's belongings for DNA testing, and at least one of his victims has testified before the grand jury.
Police and prosecutors told that victim, Halle Shilling, they were focusing their attention on Guandique. Shilling told The Post that new prosecutors and detectives apologized to her because the original investigators on the Levy case had never interviewed her.
"They said they were so sorry it took so long to talk to me," Shilling said. "They are a very dedicated band of people. They really want to get to the bottom of this, and they are not going to sleep well until they get a conviction."
Shilling said the investigators did not discuss what new evidence or new witnesses they had found. "My impression is they have a lot more," she said. Shilling said one of the investigators told her, "I can't believe Gary Condit was even a suspect."
Condit's attorney during the case, Abbe D. Lowell, said reports of an impending arrest vindicate his client.
"While very good news, it is a tragedy that the police and media obsession with former congressman Condit delayed this result for eight years and caused needless pain and harm to the families involved," Lowell said. "This should give the Levys the answer and closure they deserve and remove the unfair cloud that has hung over the Condits for too long."
Condit told ABC News Washington affiliate WJLA (Channel 7) yesterday that he was "glad" for the Levy family and his own.
"It is unfortunate that an insatiable appetite for sensationalism blocked so many from searching for the real answers for so long," said the former congressman, who now spends much of his time in Arizona. "I had always hoped to have the opportunity to tell my side of the story, but too many were not prepared to listen. Now I plan to do so, but I will have no further comments on this story at this time."
Within weeks of Levy's disappearance, police, prosecutors and the media trained much of their attention on Condit. News of the affair between the congressman and the intern transfixed them. Two women came forward to tell the FBI about their relationships with the congressman, and details were leaked to the media.
Two weeks after Levy disappeared, a man with a knife tackled Shilling as she ran along a trail in Rock Creek Park, but she managed to escape. On July 1, Christy Wiegand was attacked at knifepoint on another trail in the park. She, too, escaped. Later that night, police arrested Guandique, and he confessed to the crimes. But investigators and prosecutors in the Levy case did not focus on Guandique for months, and they did not interview his two victims.
Shilling said the new investigators contacted her late last year and asked her to come to Washington. In December, they took her to Rock Creek Park and asked her to reenact the attack. She also testified before the grand jury about how Guandique had stalked her and then jumped her on a trail not far from the National Zoo.
The Post investigation found that the police's work was marked by a series of missteps. Police failed to secure surveillance tapes from Levy's Dupont Circle apartment, and they had no idea when she left and whether she left alone or with someone. They then corrupted a search of her computer, making it difficult for them to figure out which Web sites she visited before she disappeared. Police did not learn for a month that she was looking for information about Rock Creek Park on the day she disappeared. When police did start to search Rock Creek Park, in July 2001, they botched a search order. The search teams looked 100 yards off the roads in the park instead of 100 yards off the trails. They missed finding Levy's remains by 79 yards. It would be another year before a man walking his dog found them.
Police began to focus on Guandique in 2002. An inmate came forward to say Guandique confessed to the crime while they were in jail, but his account was dismissed after he failed an FBI polygraph test. Guandique also took a polygraph test before he was sentenced in the two attacks; the results were "inconclusive."
Police then tried to track down Guandique's associates and his belongings. His associates said that in spring 2001 he had turned violent, started to drink and attacked his girlfriend. The day Levy disappeared, he did not show up for work.
From the time of Guandique's arrest, police took 13 months to interview his ex-girlfriend. It took them 14 months to interview his landlord, who said Guandique looked as if he had been in a bad fight about the time of Levy's disappearance. She told them that she had thrown out some of Guandique's belongings that summer.
With no physical evidence linking Guandique to the crime and few promising leads left to follow, the case languished for years.
"The Post series really helped the police, because it brought new things out," Robert Levy said.
Last fall, a new team of investigators headed by a new prosecutor stepped up the investigation. Lanier told The Post yesterday that what the new investigators turned up has not been made public, and she declined to say whether it involved DNA or a piece of physical evidence.
Lanier said the "real facts" of the case have yet to emerge. "I am extremely proud of the way investigators in this case have been able to maintain complete confidentiality," she said. "My investigators have not shared or leaked facts of this investigation."