Defense team for man held in Chandra Levy killing can't see jury pool names
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Attorneys for a Salvadoran immigrant charged with killing federal intern Chandra Levy may not examine the last names of potential jurors to determine whether the pool is likely to include Hispanics, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Friday.
The ruling was a setback for the lawyers representing Ingmar Guandique, who have argued that their client cannot get a fair trial in the District if there are no Hispanics on the jury.
Guandique, 28, who is in the country illegally, was arrested last year and charged with six counts, including first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and sexual abuse, in connection with Levy's 2001 disappearance and slaying. Levy's remains were found in Rock Creek Park a year after she went missing.
Guandique's attorneys requested that court officials release the surnames of potential jurors so that they could be compared against the 2000 Census to determine whether the names are of Latino origin. They wanted to make sure that the pool of potential jurors included Latinos, and they were seeking the list of names the court generally uses before issuing jury summonses. That list is generated from various public records, including ones for driver's licenses, motor vehicle and voter registrations, and public assistance.
Prosecutors objected to the request, calling it a "delay tactic" and a "fishing expedition."
In denying the request, Judge Gerald I. Fisher said that releasing the names would not help identify qualified, Hispanic jurors. Also, he said, releasing the names would not help identify those jurors who are 18 or older, legal residents of the District, and able to speak and read English, all requirements for jury duty in the city.
Still, Fisher acknowledged that choosing a jury could be a challenge because the Levy trial was a "very unique case." The judge cited several problems, such as the trial potentially lasting more than five weeks. Finding jurors who could sit that long without a hardship could take a few days, he said.
Fisher also said that the case has received intense media attention and that finding potential jurors who have not heard about the case and formed some opinion will be challenging.
"Ethnicity" is also a factor, the judge said, acknowledging the defense attorneys' argument that Guandique's race and immigration status could make it difficult to find unbiased jurors.
Fisher further cited Guandique's gang affiliation. Guandique was a member of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and several witnesses who were with him in prison and are scheduled to testify were also members of gangs.
"How are we going to pull this off is the big question," the judge said to the attorneys.
To address some of the concerns, Guandique's attorneys, from the District's Public Defender Service, and prosecutors submitted potential questions for jurors.
For example, they discussed a question about whether jurors perceived members of gangs to be violent. Fisher said that just because a person was in a gang didn't mean that gang was involved in violent activity. He cited the character Spanky from the "Our Gang" series from the 1930s. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines argued that any member of the MS-13 gang was, in fact, violent. That question will remain part of the juror questionnaire.
The attorneys also raised arguments over questions that would elicit potential jurors' opinions of illegal immigrants or people with tattoos. Guandique has at least one visible tattoo, on his neck.