In Levy case, survey answers lead to dismissals of more prospective jurors
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 11:22 PM
One prospective juror said he feared gang retaliation. Another said she had been mugged a few years ago and now rarely walks outside after dark. And another said all gang members should be "castrated."
In the third day of jury selection in the Chandra Levy murder trial Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors and defense attorneys for Ingmar Guandique, the man accused of killing the former federal intern, heard a variety of experiences and opinions from dozens of prospective jurors who were interviewed to determine their eligibility to sit on the trial jury.
Judge Gerald Fisher said he hopes to have a list of 40 prospective jurors finalized by Thursday. From that group, the prosecution and the defense each will get to eliminate 12. From the final 16, the attorneys and the judge will select 12 jurors and four alternates. Opening statements will begin Monday.
By the end of the day Wednesday, 12 jurors had been dismissed and 30 were qualified.
Guandique, 29, was arrested last year and charged with six counts, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse in connection with the disappearance and slaying of Levy, 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 Levy's home town of Modesto. Condit initially was viewed as the prime suspect in Levy's disappearance, but police and prosecutors dismissed him as having any connection with the crime.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys were able to get a sense of prospective jurors' feelings about the case after reading 55-page surveys that were handed out to them Monday. On Wednesday, attorneys were allowed to ask prospective jurors to elaborate on some of their answers.
Several talked about experiences that could influence their objectivity if selected. One woman said she was mugged in Georgetown a few years ago. No one was arrested in the attack, and the woman said she rarely walks D.C. streets after dark. But, she added: "I think I've gotten over it. I could be objective."
Guandique's attorney Maria Hawilo asked Fisher to dismiss the woman. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines argued that it wasn't feasible to dismiss all people who have been mugged in a city. Fisher declined Hawilo's request but said he would reconsider his decision later.
One potential juror expressed concern about how much attention the media had paid to Levy's relationship with Condit. "They just latched onto one person and ignored all the other people," the woman said.
Hawilo asked a follow-up question: "What if there was evidence that Gary Condit may have been involved?" The juror responded that she would try to keep an open mind.
Hawilo did not elaborate on the significance of the question about Condit.
Most of the responses that seemed to cause attorneys the greatest concern centered around opinions about gangs and illegal immigrants.
Guandique is an illegal immigrant from El Salvador and a member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang.
Among the jurors dismissed were some who had said they were "opposed" to illegal immigrants, while another said that all gang members should be "castrated."
Staff writer Henri Cauvin contributed to this report.