Former cellmate tells jury Guandique admitted killing Levy

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 9:26 PM

For the first time in eight days of trial, Ingmar Guandique was linked directly to the Chandra Levy slaying when a former prison cellmate testified Thursday that Guandique admitted killing the federal intern.

Guandique said he was high on drugs and crouching behind bushes in Rock Creek Park when he saw Levy walking alone and wearing a waist pouch, according to the testimony of the cellmate, Armando Morales. Guandique needed money and he jumped Levy, Morales said.

Morales, a five-time convicted felon, captivated D.C. Superior Court with his testimony. Although the account was secondhand, it was the first telling of Levy's final moments.

He said that he and Guandique shared a cell at a Kentucky prison in 2006. Guandique confided in Morales because he was afraid he was about to be transferred to another prison and feared he would be targeted by inmates because he had been tagged a rapist, Morales testified.

Morales, 49, told Guandique not to worry if he had done nothing wrong.

According to Morales, Guandique said: "You don't understand. . . . Homeboy, I killed the [expletive], but I didn't rape her."

Guandique told Morales that he grabbed Levy from behind and dragged her off the trail. She tried to fight, but by the time Guandique got her into the bushes, she had stopped struggling. He said he thought she was unconscious, not dead, Morales testified.

Guandique took the pouch and ran into the woods, Morales said.

"He said he never meant to kill her," Morales testified. Guandique later said that if he had known Levy was dead, he never would have returned to the park to steal from other women. Guandique told Morales that he did not know Levy had died until detectives disclosed the information during questioning years later.

Levy's mother, Susan, took notes as Morales testified.

Morales and Guandique shared an 8-by-10-foot cell equipped with a bunk bed. Morales was using the top bunk and Guandique was on the bottom when the conversation about Levy occurred, Morales testified.

Guandique, 29, also took notes as Morales testified.

Last year, at approximately the same time Morales notified authorities about the alleged conversation, Guandique was charged with six counts in Levy's slaying, including first-degree murder, attempted robbery and sexual assault.

Levy, 24, disappeared on May 1, 2001. Her remains were found a year later in the park.

Morales's testimony is critical to the government's case. There is no DNA or forensic evidence linking Guandique to the Levy slaying. There is no weapon, no eyewitness and no official cause of death. Another former inmate is scheduled to testify when the trial resumes on Wednesday. He, too, is expected to say that Guandique confessed to killing Levy.

Morales, nicknamed "Mouse" in prison, spoke slowly and deliberately about the man he called "Chucky," a reference to the murderous doll in the 1988 horror movie "Child's Play."

Morales pointed to Guandique in the courtroom and said Guandique had the nickname tattooed across his back. A photo of the tattoo was shown to the jury of 12 women and four men. Morales said he remembered the tattoo in part because "Chucky" was misspelled: C-h-a-c-k-y.

The men bonded over their gang affiliations. Morales, who pleaded guilty in 1997 to dealing cocaine and methamphetamine while armed, is serving a 21-year sentence. He was a founding member of the Fresno Bulldogs, a gang based in California and aligned with Guandique's gang, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

The men could identify the other's gang affiliations, in part by their tattoos. When meeting Guandique, Morales remembered thinking "I can trust him. He's an ally," he testified.

Morales said Guandique also told him about other attacks on female joggers in the park about the time Levy disappeared. Guandique told him that the women fought him off.

Morales recalled Guandique laughing when he said the women were in "better shape" than he was. In 2002, Guandique pleaded guilty to attacking women on May 14 and July 17, 2001. Neither suffered serious physical injury. Guandique was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. Both women have testified at the Levy trial.

Morales said he never thought about sharing what Guandique told him until Christmas 2008, when he received a visit from his family and was participating in a prison-sponsored life skills program.

He testified that he had turned his life around in prison and wanted to do the right thing, so he wanted to tell about his conversation.

Morales said he first confided in his mentor, another prisoner who had cooperated with prosecutors in a separate case and was able to get a sentence reduction. It was his mentor who told Morales that he should alert authorities.

Then, one day in prison, Morales was watching a CNN report on the Levy case and the story said Guandique had been arrested. He told his friend about the report. The two then sat in a cell and wrote a seven-page letter that Morales's friend sent to another prosecutor at the Department of Justice.

Guandique's lawyer, Santha Sonenberg, was convinced Morales was only cooperating with the government in hopes of receiving a favor, either an earlier release, transfer to a prison of choice, or other prison perks and privileges.

Sonenberg pointed out that Morales has spent 30 years in prison on various offenses, including robbery, attempted murder and assault, and knew how cooperating with authorities worked.

"Don't you hope [testifying] will help you get out sooner?" Sonenberg asked.

But Morales repeatedly denied that he had any deal with the government and wasn't seeking any favors.

"I didn't come up here to get a benefit out of it as far as going home," Morales said.

But he added: "If they was to let me go home, that would be nice."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company