Correction to This Article
This story originally said Phillip Palmer found Levy's remains in Rock Creek Park in 2001instead of 2002.

Dog walker who found Levy's remains testifies in murder trial

Some of the indelible images associated with the Chandra Levy disappearance and subsequent murder investigation.
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 11:45 PM

It was just a walk in Rock Creek Park on a spring morning. A man and his dog.

It ended with the gruesome discovery of a skull buried among leaves and foliage, a skull that authorities later identified as Chandra Levy's.

Phillip Palmer, the Dupont Circle cabinetmaker who found the federal intern's remains, took the witness stand Wednesday, the third day of testimony in the murder trial of Ingmar Guandique. Guandique, 29, an undocumented worker from El Salvador, is charged with murder and other counts in Levy's death.

Smiling and sometimes whimsical, Palmer told the jury of 12 women and four men that on May 22, 2002, he was walking his then 4-month-old golden retriever mix, Paco, in an isolated, dense part of Rock Creek Park called Western Ridge Trail. Palmer, 50, said the walk was part of his and Paco's daily routine.

Palmer said he was looking to add to his turtle shell collection on his daily walks. In a ravine that day, he saw a white bone, which he thought was a turtle shell that had been bleached by the sun. "But it wasn't," he said.

It was part of a skull, not too far from a red piece of clothing. Palmer placed his jacket and Paco's leash on a branch to mark the spot and ran to find someone with a cellphone.

He had no idea that the skull was that of Levy, who had disappeared a year earlier. Police had scoured the park in the weeks after she went missing.

"This was a tragedy. People want to know who this person was," he remembered thinking to himself at the time. "It was very emotional."

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines used a projector to show an enlarged image of the skull in the debris, Levy's mother, Susan, who was sitting in the third row, bowed her head and clasped her hands in front of her mouth.

Palmer became irritated on the stand when he described how police officers who arrived at the scene began "traipsing" through the area where the skull had been found and, in his opinion, were not taking the scene seriously.

"They were acting very nonprofessional and appalling," Palmer said. D.C. police officers' handling of the case has been a key issue during the trial.

Prosecutors called several witnesses Wednesday who described seeing scratches on Guandique's face about May 1, 2001, when prosecutors say Guandique attacked and killed Levy. The witnesses also described the different explanations he gave as to how he got the scratches.

Sheila Phillips, the property manager of several Washington condominiums and co-ops, said she allowed Guandique to stay with her twice because he was a family acquaintance.

One of those times was May 1, 2001, Phillips said, when Guandique told her he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend, Iris Portillo. Guandique was living with Portillo and her mother at the time. He had scratches on his face and neck and a swollen lip, Phillips said.

Under cross-examination by Santha Sonenberg, one of Guandique's attorneys, Phillips said that she has at times mixed up the date she saw the scratches. She said that in a meeting last year, she told Sonenberg that Guandique stayed with her a "couple of weeks before May 7." Phillips made a similar statement to Sonenberg's investigators last month, saying that Guandique's visit was about three weeks before May 7, 2001.

Prosecutors then called Portillo to the stand. During an hour on the stand, Portillo often acted confused by the questioning. She said she was from El Salvador, came to Washington in 2000, attended Roosevelt Senior High School and now attends business college.

She said she originally told prosecutors that Guandique never hit her. But in questioning by Sonenberg, she said she pushed Guandique in late 2000 to "defend myself." In redirect by prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, she said that Guandique once punched her in the face.

Portillo also said that when she saw the scratches on Guandique's chest, he told her someone had tried to rob him.

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