Levy case is now in the jury's hands

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By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The last thing Chandra Levy saw before being dragged into a remote, wooded area of Rock Creek Park nine years ago was Ingmar Guandique's face, prosecutors argued Tuesday. And then for hours, or even days, Levy lay in the park - bound and gagged, unable to scream for help - until she died of dehydration or exposure.

"What happened in those woods was ghastly. By the time Ms. Levy was no more, she had suffered," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said during her closing arguments in D.C. Superior Court. "Justice is what needs to happen here. She waited nine years for justice. You can give it to her."

A Washington murder case that caught the attention of the nation and the world is now in the hands of the jury after attorneys on both sides spent more than three hours Tuesday giving their closing arguments. The jury of nine women and three men will begin deliberating Wednesday morning.

Prosecutors acknowledged during their closings that they do not know for sure how Levy died. But they said they are sure that Guandique killed her.

During three weeks of testimony, prosecutors presented a theory of the case. Guandique was described as hiding in the bushes and stalking women in the park. The women, Haines said, fit a certain type: young, white and walking or jogging alone in the park.

He attacked them from behind and knocked them to the ground, always planning to steal something, Haines said. Two women fought Guandique off and later identified him for police. Levy, she said, never got that chance.

Prosecutors wove their case around two main pieces of evidence: Guandique's past assaults in the park, which they said were part of a pattern, and testimony that he confessed to a prison inmate that he killed Levy.

But throughout the trial, and again during her closing argument, Guandique's lead attorney, Santha Sonenberg, tried to poke holes in the government's version of events. The case, she said, was based on "assumptions" and "suggestions."

At the beginning of her 90-minute closing argument, Sonenberg called the case against Guandique "fiction."

"A criminal trial is not about fiction, assumptions or suggestions," Sonenberg said. "The government has not established anything beyond a reasonable doubt."

Guandique, 29, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, is charged with first-degree felony murder. He sat through the closings with his head often bowed and listened as a court-appointed Spanish interpreter translated the arguments. Several jurors scribbled notes, as did Levy's mother, Susan, who sat in the audience.

It was a challenging case for federal prosecutors and one of the most visible and controversial cases the District has seen in decades.


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