Excerpt from the book 'Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery'
Friday, May 7, 2010
"Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery," by Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz. Copyright 2010 by Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz. Adapted with the permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc.
The three D.C. detectives traveled 3,000 miles with a carefully crafted plan.
At a sand-colored, maximum-security federal prison on the edge of the Mojave Desert, they prepared to interview the man they suspected of raping and murdering Washington intern Chandra Ann Levy. It was Sept. 9, 2008.
For seven years, Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant with a penchant for violence toward women, had eluded the police and FBI as a viable suspect in the city's most famous unsolved murder. The original detectives failed to connect him to the crime that captured the attention of the nation during the summer of 2001 with its subplots of sex and scandal and the possibility that a member of Congress might have been involved.
Now it was up to the new detectives. They put their plan into play. They took a sample of Guandique's DNA and, bluffing, told him they expected it would match DNA collected during the murder investigation.
"So what if I touched her?" Guandique said.
Not quite a confession, the incriminating remark is now part of the circumstantial case that prosecutors are putting together for one of Washington's highest-profile murder trials, scheduled to begin Oct. 4. Among the new disclosures: Prosecutors have revealed that lab technicians discovered unknown male DNA on Chandra's black ProSpirit stretch pants found in Rock Creek Park. The pants had been turned inside out, each leg knotted at the end, leaving investigators to theorize that they may have been used to restrain Chandra.
The DNA does not belong to Guandique or Gary Condit, the former congressman from California who was having an affair with Chandra. Prosecutors say they believe that a police officer or evidence technician inadvertently touched the pants, but defense lawyers could argue that the DNA belongs to Chandra's true killer.
Next Friday, prosecutors and Guandique's defense attorneys will fight over some of the more contentious issues in D.C. Superior Court. Judge Gerald I. Fisher will determine how much the jury will learn about Guandique's past attacks on women in Rock Creek Park. He will decide whether to grant a defense request to move the trial outside of Washington because of pretrial publicity. He will also determine whether jurors hear about the "so what if I touched her" remark.
Defense attorneys have argued that the remark should be suppressed because Guandique had invoked his right to an attorney after Chandra's remains were discovered in May 2002, and he was interviewed without a lawyer in 2008. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police can question inmates without a lawyer, as long as 14 days have passed since invocation of the right.
Still, prosecutors have an uphill battle. There is no confession to police, no eyewitnesses, and no fingerprints or DNA tying Guandique to the crime. What they have instead are statements by a half-dozen informants, many of whom are prison inmates and associates, who say Guandique confessed to the murder. Their credibility will no doubt come under attack from defense attorneys.