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Suspect in Levy slaying deemed an 'extreme flight risk'

Ingmar Guandique is charged in the slaying of Chandra Levy.
Ingmar Guandique is charged in the slaying of Chandra Levy. (Kevin Clark - The Washington Post)
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By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2010

The man accused of killing federal intern Chandra Levy appeared in D.C. Superior Court on Friday under heightened security after marshals told the judge that the suspect is considered an "extreme flight risk."

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Two additional federal marshals were posted at the door of Judge Gerald I. Fisher's courtroom after one told him that Ingmar Guandique, the man police and prosecutors say killed Levy in Rock Creek Park in 2001, recently tried to escape from his restraints.

Marshals were reluctant to release Guandique's hands from his shackles. But Fisher ordered them to release one of Guandique's hands so he could take notes during the hearing and communicate with his attorneys.

During the hearing, Guandique's defense team suffered a blow when Fisher ruled that he would allow testimony during the trial about Guandique's prior convictions. When Guandique was arrested last year, he was serving a 10-year sentence in a federal prison for attacking two women at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park about the time Levy, 24, disappeared. Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was charged with multiple counts in the Levy case, including first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and sexual abuse.

Guandique's attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo of the District's Public Defender Service, had argued that testimony about their client's convictions would be prejudicial to the jury and had nothing to do with the charges Guandique now faces.

Fisher also ruled that he would allow information about alleged threats that Guandique, 28, made against an inmate in another prison. The government plans to call that inmate as a witness.

Prosecutors say while in prison, Guandique told the inmate about his involvement in Levy's slaying. Guandique and other members of his MS-13 gang sent threatening letters to the inmate, prosecutors say. Guandique was released from the D.C. jail for several hours this week to give investigators a handwriting sample.

Fisher said the threats were relevant to the case because they revealed Guandique's state of mind. Prosecutors later charged Guandique with obstruction of justice and conspiracy, related to the threats.

The murder trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 4 and is expected to last up to six weeks.

Selecting a jury, attorneys said, could be challenging. In addition to finding jurors who would be able to participate for more than a month, Guandique's attorneys said they are concerned that the jury pool might not include Hispanics. Guandique's attorneys also petitioned Fisher to allow them to ask potential jurors questions related to race, including thoughts on Hispanics and gang affiliation. "Considering the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating parts of the country, we need to address these issues," Sonenberg said.

Prosecutors Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor objected to such questions, calling them offensive. Fisher said he would consider the issue and rule later.

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