D.C. police admit disguising selves, writing letters to Chandra Levy suspect

Prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, left with Amanda Haines, said the letters were not "illegal, unethical or improper."
Prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, left with Amanda Haines, said the letters were not "illegal, unethical or improper." (Nikki Kahn/the Washington Post)
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 8:12 PM

District law enforcement officers disguised themselves as a Latina woman and wrote letters to Ingmar Guandique while he was in a California prison, hoping Guandique would confess his involvement in the slaying of federal government intern Chandra Levy, defense attorneys revealed at a hearing Thursday in D.C. Superior Court.

Lead defense attorney Santha Sonenberg asked Judge Gerald Fisher to dismiss the first-degree murder charges against Guandique because of the deception. She said D.C. police - and possibly prosecutors - orchestrated the "ruse" and contacted her client without going through his attorneys, and therefore violated Guandique's rights.

"We don't know if this action was hatched with the assistance of prosecutors or done by police alone," Sonenberg said. "Knowing [Guandique] had asserted his attorney rights and did not want to talk about it, is offensive."

Fisher refused to dismiss the charges, but said he would review the defense assertions to determine if any action was warranted. "This case is going forward to trial," Fisher said.

The officers wrote the letters to Guandique under the name "Maria Lopez" between 2004 and 2005. Guandique was serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park in May 2001, around the same time that Levy disappeared. Levy's skeletal remains were found in a secluded area of the park a year later.

Guandique, 29, never acknowledged any involvement in Levy's slaying to the undercover officers posing as Maria Lopez. Sonenberg, with the District's Public Defender Service, said prosecutors informed the defense of the letters this week.

Thursday's proceeding was the final status hearing in preparation for the trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday with at least three days of jury selection. The hearing was delayed for about 20 minutes as a security sweep was done in the courtroom, the first such sweep in the courtroom since Guandique was charged with Levy's killing last year.

Prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez defended the letters and said the move was not "illegal, unethical or improper."

He accused Sonenberg of providing "sound bites" to the six or so reporters in the courtroom. Campoamor-Sanchez said that the letters were permissible, but he did not say whether his office was involved in writing the letters.

Levy's disappearance in May 2001 generated international attention because she had been having an affair with then-Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who represented the district that includes her home town of Modesto. From the start, Condit denied harming Levy, whose remains were found a year later. Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, came under scrutiny months after Levy vanished.

Also at Thursday's hearing, prosecutors said they were dropping conspiracy, obstruction and other charges against Guandique related to alleged threats to one of his former prison cellmates. The inmate was scheduled to testify against Guandique in the trial as a government witness.

Fisher also ruled against a defense motion to include information from a polygraph test that Guandique took. According to the motion, Guandique took a lie-detector test on Feb. 4, 2002. He was asked whether he was involved in Levy's disappearance and whether he had caused Levy's disappearance. Guandique responded "no" to both questions. The examiner who administered the test determined that Guandique was "not deceptive" in his responses.

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