Defense in Levy murder trial tries to undercut government's star witness

More than nine years after former federal intern Chandra Levy disappeared, a D.C. Superior Court jury found Ingmar Guandique guilty of first-degree murder in her death.
By Keith L. Alexander Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 9:45 PM

The attorneys for Ingmar Guandique, the man authorities say killed former federal intern Chandra Levy, spent Monday attacking the government's star witness.

In D.C. Superior Court, Guandique's attorneys Sontha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo questioned one of Guandique's former cellmates as part of their effort to discredit the only witness to link Guandique directly to Levy's killing.

Armando Morales testified last week that Guandique confessed he tried to rob Levy and then killed her. Morales said Guandique made the confession while the two were cellmates in a Kentucky prison.

But Monday, defense attorneys called another cellmate to the stand. Testifying via video conference from a Missouri prison, Jose Manuel Alaniz, 28, told attorneys that he shared a cell with Guandique and Morales when they were all housed in Kentucky in 2006.

Alaniz said that during the three months he was housed with Morales and Guandique, he never heard Guandique make such a confession - even though the three were locked in their tiny cell for all but one hour each week.

Alaniz also contradicted Morales's testimony about Guandique's mood when he learned he would be transferred to another prison.

Morales had testified that when Guandique learned he was going to be moved, he confided that he was nervous about the transfer. Guandique thought that people suspected him of raping Levy, and rapists often are targets of prison violence, Morales testified.

Morales said Guandique told him he'd killed Levy, but didn't rape her.

Alaniz said Guandique's mood did not change when he learned of the transfer.

He also said he never heard Guandique use the Spanish words for rape, kill or dead girl or even say Levy's name. "Not while I was there," Alaniz said.

Authorities said Guandique, 29, killed Levy on May 1, 2001, in Rock Creek Park. Her remains were found a year later. At the time she disappeared, Levy, 24, was having an affair with Gary A. Condit, the California congressman from Levy's home town.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines tried to weaken Alaniz's account. Alaniz said that although he is part Mexican and part Native American, he was not fluent in Spanish. Alaniz also admitted that he rarely asked questions when Guandique and Morales would talk to each other in Spanish because he "didn't want to be too nosy," a characteristic that can be dangerous for inmates.

Alaniz, who had been convicted of drug and weapon offenses, also admitted that he was recovering from a gunshot wound at the time he was housed with Guandique and Morales and slept a lot. Alaniz also listened to music or the news through his headphones in the morning and evening. Alaniz is scheduled to be released from prison next year.

Haines also showed documents indicating that Alaniz was housed in the cell with Guandique for less than a month.

To further attack Morales's credibility, Guandique's attorneys called their investigator, Briana Bond, to the stand. Morales, who was interviewed for several hours by prosecutors in preparation for his testimony, refused to meet with Bond. Morales testified that when Bond visited him last month at a Hanover, Va., prison, he refused to talk to her because he did not know who she was and she was not dressed professionally, wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

On the stand, Bond held up to the jury part of the outfit she said she wore when she visited Morales. It was a pair of long, gray - "frumpy" as she described it - slacks. She said she also wore a short-sleeved shirt and a cardigan but did not remember specifics of the shirt.

As expected, Guandique told Judge Gerald I. Fisher in court that he chose not to testify. It is rare for defendants to do so.

Guandique's attorneys then rested their case. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday and the jury could begin deliberating as early as Tuesday afternoon.

But deliberations could be shorter than originally expected. On Monday, prosecutors dismissed more charges against Guandique. They dropped attempted kidnapping and attempted robbery charges because the statute of limitations had expired on the 2001 case.

At one point, prosecutors had charged Guandique with nine different counts in the murder trial.

Prosecutors have since dropped all but two charges: first-degree felony murder as a result of a kidnapping, and first-degree felony murder during an attempted robbery. Although prosecutors dropped the kidnapping and robbery charges, they are using the charges as a basis to support the felony murder charges.

Also Monday, Fisher released some of the biographical data on the 12 female and four male jurors who have been listening to the case. The ages of the jurors range from 26 to 72. All but one has some college education, and five have post-college degrees. There are two journalists, one educator and one government lawyer.

Fisher released the information after a First Amendment petition was filed by attorneys representing The Washington Post, along with the Associated Press and Gannett, owner of WUSA (Channel 9).

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