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Woman testifies about attack in Rock Creek Park

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2010; 10:29 PM

It was a day Halle Shilling said she could never forget.

Testifying on the first day of the Chandra Levy murder trial, Shilling recalled that she dressed in her black running tights and white shirt and was listening to a mix of Mexican tunes on her Walkman about 6 p.m. on May 14, 2001, as she began her regular run in Rock Creek Park.

She had been slow-jogging for a little while when she noticed a "light-skinned Latino" man sitting on a curb wearing dark athletic shorts and no shirt.

"He was creepy. He was just watching me," Shilling said on the witness stand, at times breaking down in tears.

Clouds started to block the evening sun, and Shilling realized she was alone on the trail. She picked up a stick but quickly discarded it, thinking she was being paranoid. Then, within minutes, she noticed the same man jogging behind her. He got closer and closer. Then Shilling felt a thud. The man jumped on her from behind and knocked her to the ground. She saw a five-inch knife in his left hand.

"I screamed as loud as I knew how to scream," she said.

The attacker, Shilling later learned, was Ingmar Guandique.

Guandique, 29, is charged with first-degree murder and other counts in Levy's death. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to the attack on Shilling and a separate attack on another woman in Rock Creek Park and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The other woman also is expected to testify in the Levy case.

Nine years in the making, the first day of evidence at Guandique's trial was highlighted by Shilling's testimony. Shilling, now 39, was attacked the same month Levy disappeared and near the area of Rock Creek Park where Levy's body was found about a year later.

Levy, 24, a former federal intern whose disappearance generated international headlines, disappeared May 1, 2001.

Prosecutors say Guandique attacked Levy in the same manner he attacked Shilling and called Shilling to the stand to help establish that pattern.

Shilling's testimony followed opening statements Monday. Maria Hawilo, one of Guandique's defense attorneys, attacked the government's case in her opening, saying it is built on assumptions about his past and the word of informants in search of deals.

But Shilling gripped the jury of 12 women and four men.

"I screamed 'no' as loud as I could," Shilling testified. "He kept saying 'shhh' over and over again."

Shilling, a wife and mother of three, spoke slowly and recited details of the attack - details that remained vivid in her mind. She remembered the sound of water running in a nearby creek and cars passing by. "I realized I was in a very remote part of the park. No one could hear me," said Shilling, who now lives in Southern California.

Shilling and the man wrestled briefly; he had his hands around her neck and on her shoulders. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Shilling then remembered her self-defense training. Aim for her attacker's soft parts - the eyes, the nose, the mouth.

Guandique was on top of her, but she thrust her hand in his mouth and squeezed. Guandique bit down on her finger until it bled. He got up and ran away, stealing nothing.

The entire incident lasted about two minutes, Shilling recalled. "I felt as afraid and alone as I ever felt in my entire life," Shilling said.

When Shilling began to cry at one point during her 90 minutes of testimony, Susan Levy, Chandra Levy's mother, lunged forward from her seat in the second row with a pack of tissues.

It was the first time Susan Levy had been so close to the man authorities say killed her daughter. Levy, with her attorney, walked into the courtroom about 30 minutes before testimony began.

Later, Guandique was brought in wearing a gray vest and cream turtleneck, and Levy watched as marshals escorted him to his seat. For the remainder of the day, Levy took notes on a yellow legal pad.

Guandique also took notes. At times, he pulled his shirt sleeve over his hand, as if he remembered he had "M.S." tattooed on the back. The letters are the initials of his gang, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. The various turtlenecks he has worn since jury selection last week covered a tattoo of the gang's name on his neck.

After Shilling's testimony, prosecutors called Amber Fitzgerald to the stand. Fitzgerald, 38, of Northwest Washington, testified that she was walking in the park in the spring of 2001 when she noticed a dark-skinned Latino man watching her. He looked as if he "was trying to sneak up on me," Fitzgerald testified.

The man never touched Fitzgerald, and she didn't tell police until two years later - after she saw Guandique's picture in a news article next to a story on Levy.

"I wasn't 100 percent sure," Fitzgerald testified. "I just felt in my gut it was him."

Fitzgerald also wasn't sure of when she had the encounter. She circled 13 dates the incident could have occurred. Those dates were between late April and early May. Guandique was never arrested or charged with any crimes against Fitzgerald.

Guandique's attorneys say prosecutors have charged the wrong man.

Prosecutors, in opening statements, said that they don't have much physical evidence against Guandique.

There is no DNA, no weapon, no eyewitnesses. They have based their case on Guandique's confessions to other inmates, who say he told them he raped and killed Levy.

"We don't know how she died, stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines. "But that was her attacker's plan."

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