By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffed and shackled, the man suspected of killing Chandra Levy was taken to the D.C. police department's violent crimes branch yesterday, where he was formally arrested on a charge of first-degree murder.
Ingmar Guandique, 27, said nothing as he walked past a swarm of reporters and photographers and into the police office in Southeast Washington. He spent about 90 minutes there before being driven to a cellblock at police headquarters downtown, where he awaits a likely appearance today in D.C. Superior Court.
Authorities obtained the arrest warrant last month in the May 2001 killing of the former federal government intern, who was slain during a random sexual assault along a desolate hiking trail deep in Rock Creek Park. Guandique has been serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two other women at knifepoint in the park about the time that Levy, 24, disappeared. Her body was found a year later.
Guandique was in a federal prison in California at the time the arrest warrant was issued; because the District does not have its own prison, its prisoners are housed in federal facilities. Federal marshals took him from California to an Oklahoma prison facility, then to Washington on Monday night. Yesterday, he was taken to the violent crimes branch by the D.C. police detectives who revived a case that had grown cold over time: Anthony Brigidini, Emilio Martinez and Kenneth "Todd" Williams.
Guandique, with a goatee and close-cropped brown hair, emerged from a black Chevrolet Impala, keeping his head down as he entered the building. A tattoo was visible across the front of his neck, reading "Mara Salvatrucha," the name of a Salvadoran gang also known as MS-13. Guandique, a slightly built Salvadoran immigrant, entered the United States illegally in 2000.
Authorities planned to give Guandique a chance to answer their questions yesterday, but the short amount of time he spent at the violent crimes branch indicated that the discussion never got going. His attorneys, with the D.C. Public Defender Service, later issued a statement criticizing the case against him.
"We are glad that Mr. Guandique is back in the jurisdiction and look forward to a formal appearance in court at which time the government's flawed investigation and lack of reliable evidence -- eyewitnesses, physical or otherwise -- can be addressed for the first time," defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo said in the statement.
Based on a police affidavit, authorities are hinging their case on a compilation of statements from victims of Guandique and from unidentified witnesses who said he admitted to the crime in letters and conversations that explained, often in grisly detail, how he attacked, sexually assaulted and killed Levy in the park. He said he acted with the help of two accomplices not named in the affidavit. The affidavit did not disclose any physical evidence linking Guandique to the crime.
Levy's disappearance generated international attention because she had been having an affair with then-Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who represented the district that includes Levy's home town of Modesto. Police questioned Condit during the probe, and he later was voted out of office. From the start, he denied harming Levy and urged police to look elsewhere.
Guandique, a day laborer, came under the scrutiny of police months after Levy vanished, but delays and missteps allowed the case to languish. In a series published last year, a Washington Post investigation revealed that the police work was riddled with mistakes and missed opportunities almost from Day One.
Since the end of last summer, the new team of detectives reviewed evidence, interviewed numerous witnesses and built a case against Guandique. Among those interviewed: the two women whom Guandique was convicted of attacking at the park in 2001.
Guandique was last in D.C. Superior Court when he was sentenced to nine months in prison Feb. 28, 2002, on a charge of attempted burglary. That was added to the 10-year prison term he received that month for the two counts of aggravated assault with attempt to rob in the case of the two women.
Staff writers Keith L. Alexander and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.