Jury selection begins in Chandra Levy case

As Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a man accused of killing federal intern Chandra Levy nearly a decade ago, The Washington Post's Keith Alexander outlines the upcoming trial and his exclusive interview with Levy's parents.
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010; 10:59 PM

Jury selection in the trial of Ingmar Guandique, the man who police say killed former federal intern Chandra Levy, began Monday as lawyers tried to find 16 District residents who could be empaneled for the expected four- to five-week trial.

D.C. Superior Court officials called 112 prospective jurors - 56 in two groups - to Courtroom 320 and supplied them with a list of preliminary questions aimed at gauging whether the jurors were available for such a lengthy trial. The jurors' pool was twice as large as is normal.

By late afternoon, 23 prospective jurors had been dismissed for a variety of reasons, including booked travel arrangements or inability to miss college or graduate-level lectures. A handful of prospective jurors were dismissed after they informed Judge Gerald Fisher of work-related problems, despite Fisher's offer to write letters to their employers explaining the mandatory nature of jury duty.

The remaining potential jurors were asked to fill out an 11-page, 55-question survey aimed at weeding out those who had learned about the case from media reports and had already formed an opinion about Guandique's guilt or innocence. There were also questions about whether the prospective jurors belonged to a gang, had been the target of gang violence, had participated in anti-gang campaigns or had any association with Mara Salvatrucha, or the MS 13 gang, of which Guandique allegedly is a member.

Lawyers also wanted to know about any "negative feelings" toward Hispanics or Latinos and people who are illegal immigrants.

Guandique is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador.

Jury selection is expected to last through the week. Opening statements could come Friday but will probably begin Monday after the jury, which will include 12 jurors and four alternates, is sworn in.

Last year, Guandique, 29, was arrested and charged with six counts, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse, in connection with the former intern who disappeared in May 2001. Levy's skeletal remains were found a year later.

At the time of his arrest, Guandique was serving a 10-year sentence in a federal prison in California for assaulting two other women at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park about the same time that Levy, 24, disappeared.

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 her home town of Modesto.

Prosecutors said they expect to take about four weeks to present their case, while Guandique's attorneys said they expect to take a day.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez identified several potential witnesses who might be called during the trial, including Condit, FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett, and Halle Shilling and Christy Wiegand, the two women Guandique was convicted of attacking in Rock Creek Park.

During the jury selection process, at least two potential jurors said they had heard about the case and had an opinion about Guandique's involvement.

One juror said he thought Guandique was guilty, and another said he thought Guandique was innocent. Both were dismissed.

At the proceedings, a freshly shaven Guandique was wearing an olive sport coat, slacks and a yellow turtleneck. The turtleneck covered Guandique's neck tattoo, the name of the gang he is alleged to belong to.

After each lawyer stood up, faced the panel and introduced themselves, Guandique did the same. "Buenos dias," he said in a soft voice. "Me llamo Ingmar Guandique."

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