Prison pen pal testified of Guandique's dead girl' letters

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 11:04 PM

The man on trial for the murder of former federal intern Chandra Levy wrote to a pen pal in 2003 that he was imprisoned for a "muchacha muerta" - a dead girl - according to testimony Tuesday.

Maria T. Mendez, the pen pal, testified that she had corresponded with Ingmar Guandique and other inmates over the years.

Mendez, 48, a twice-divorced mother of two adult children and a 13-year-old, told Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Compoamor-Sanchez that Guandique got her post office box address in Miami from another inmate to whom she had been writing.

Mendez said she was surprised by Guandique's initial 21/2-page letter because she knew nothing about him. Mendez said she has been writing inmates who advertise for pen pals in magazines since the 1990s.

At the time of the letter, Guandique was not jailed in any death. He was serving time for attacking two young women in Rock Creek Park. Neither of the women was seriously injured.

There were follow-up letters and a phone call, but Guandique never explained who the "dead girl" was or why he said he was in jail because of her, Mendez testified. In the letter, Guandique wrote that he had been homeless and had "lived in a D.C. park," she said.

Guandique's trial finished its sixth day Tuesday, and Mendez's testimony was the first attempt by prosecutors to directly tie Guandique to Levy's death. Previous testimony centered on forensic evidence, ruling out other suspects and establishing a pattern of Guandique attacking women in Rock Creek Park around the time Levy, 24, disappeared.

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

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.

Guandique was a year into a 10-year sentence in a federal prison in California when he wrote to Mendez.

The jury never got to see a copy of the letter. Mendez said she had thrown it out long ago, along with Guandique's other letters.

After she received the letter that mentioned the "dead girl," Mendez said she wrote Guandique and told him that she did not want to correspond any longer because she did not feel safe. Mendez said that she did not know if the dead girl was his girlfriend or someone else but that it did not matter; she didn't want to hear from him again. She had written convicted murderers before, she said, but their victims were either gang members or drug dealers.

"I don't get involved with them if their victim is a woman or children," she said.

Guandique called her once after she wrote the letter severing their friendship, about a month after he first wrote.

Prosecutors played a recording of the April 30, 2003, collect call. It was a flirtatious. The two laughed a little. She asked him to tell her about himself. "Why are you being so shy?" she asked, laughing.

She asked if he had ever been to Miami. "No," he said.

He told her he was 22. She was 40. "I could be your mother. What do you think about that?" she asked. "What am I going to do with a baby like you?" Guandique laughed again.

She told him that he had a sweet voice. "You do, too," he said, according to a translated transcript.

Mendez ended the call by calling him her "little brother." Guandique then said, "I love you."

One of Guandique's attorneys, Santha Sonenberg, asked Mendez if Guandique ever admitted to killing anyone. Mendez said he had not.

Before Mendez took the stand, the jury heard from forensic experts.

One, Carey Oien of the FBI, testified that only "Caucasian" hair was found on the black running tights, panties and T-shirt found near Levy's remains.

Oien said the hair was similar to the hair from a comb found in Levy's Dupont Circle bathroom.

Maria Hawilo, an attorney for Guandique, did not ask whether any hair from a Hispanic person was found on the items. Guandique is from El Salvador.

But Oien said no DNA evidence linked Guandique to the crime scene.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines also called Smithsonian anthropologist David Hunt to the stand. Hunt was summoned to Rock Creek Park on May 22, 2002, when Levy's remains were discovered.

Hunt testified that the hyoid bone, found in the neck, had been broken.

Haines asked if that could be evidence Levy had been strangled. Hunt said yes, but he said the bone also could have been fractured as Levy's skull fell during decomposition or broken by an animal chewing on it.

Staff writer Henri E. Cauvin contributed to this report.

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