Police errors expected to figure prominently in Levy trial

Some of the indelible images associated with the Chandra Levy disappearance and subsequent murder investigation.
By Keith L. Alexander and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 25, 2010; 6:05 PM

Cold cases are often the most difficult for prosecutors to win. The nine-year-old case of who killed Chandra Levy provides an even more daunting challenge because of errors made by police early in the investigation, observers and lawyers on both sides say.

After a week of jury selection in the high-profile case, opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday. Prosecutors and attorneys for Ingmar Guandique, the man accused of killing Levy, will lay out their theories.

A court-imposed gag order prevents the lawyers from talking about the case. But both sides' strategies have become known over the course of pretrial hearings and court filings, and it's clear that those early law enforcement mistakes will play a prominent role as the trial unfolds in D.C. Superior Court.

Those errors have left prosecutors with virtually no forensic or physical evidence against Guandique, an undocumented immigrant and gang member from El Salvador.

Police failed to secure security camera footage from Levy's apartment building in the days after the 24-year-old former federal intern disappeared May 1, 2001.

Detectives initially focused on one suspect, Levy's married lover and congressman, Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), for two months and failed to broaden their investigation.

Police also failed to notice that Guandique was attacking female joggers in Rock Creek Park about the time Levy disappeared. And although police searched for Levy's body in the park in the weeks after she disappeared, her remains weren't discovered until a year later, after valuable evidence was gone.

As a result, there's no DNA, no eyewitnesses, no murder weapon.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines, said those mistakes continue to plague the case. During a recent pretrial hearing, she told Judge Gerald I. Fisher that she expects Guandique's defense lawyers to call the initial police investigation "shoddy."

"Clearly, the defense is going to prove that over and over," Haines said.

Guandique, 29, was charged last year with six counts, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse, in connection with Levy's slaying.

Despite any early errors, prosecutors think they have a winning case, largely because of Guandique's former cellmates. Prosecutors said Guandique, who was serving a 10-year sentence in a California prison for assaulting two female joggers in Rock Creek Park in 2001, told cellmates that he raped and killed Levy.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company