A single holdout delayed the verdict

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; A06

Jurors in the Chandra Levy murder trial could have rendered a verdict as early as Friday, after just two days of deliberations. In fact, all but one of the jurors were convinced that Ingmar Guandique had accidentally killed the young government intern during a robbery.

But one juror wasn't sure, according to Sharae Bacon, one of the jurors who spoke about the deliberations after the verdict was delivered. She declined to identify the juror but said the juror had not taken notes during the more than two weeks of the trial and wasn't convinced there was any proof that Guandique had tried to rob Levy.

"We had to share our notes [with the juror]. It was very frustrating. We said, 'Just think about it over the weekend and let us know what you think on Monday,' " Bacon said. By Monday morning, the holdout had reviewed the other jurors' notes and agreed with the majority, she said.

It was the testimony of Armando Morales, Guandique's former cellmate, that convinced Bacon. Morales testified that Guandique confided in him that he had killed Levy. Bacon said she did not think that Morales, who belonged to same gang as Guandique, had a reason to lie.

The testimony of Halle Shilling and Christy Wiegand, the two women Guandique had pleaded guilty to attacking in separate incidents in Rock Creek Park about the same time Levy disappeared, also figured in the jury's verdict. Both women described how, as they were jogging on separate evenings in the late spring or early summer 2001, Guandique jumped them from behind and dragged them into the woods, off the trail, and how they fought him off.

"It was hard not to be moved by their testimony," said juror Sue Kelly, 58. "It was very powerful."

Citing Morales's testimony, Bacon said she believed that Guandique tried to rob Levy but never meant to kill her. "He was just trying to survive," said Bacon, who, along with other jurors, thought that Guandique was homeless at one point and was living in the park.

The jurors also noted that several witnesses had testified about Guandique telling them about a "dead girl." Bacon, 38, recounted how Guandique's former girlfriend, Iris Portillo, and his former pen pal, Maria T. Mendez, both said Guandique had told them he was in jail because of a "dead girl."

The jurors dismissed the numerous mistakes made by police and authorities in handling the evidence. "They were trying to do their job and had no idea what kind of case it was at the beginning," Bacon said.

Bacon also dismissed the fact that Guandique's DNA was not found at the scene. "[Levy's] DNA wasn't found either. Everything had eroded," she said.

Former California congressman Gary A. Condit, who refused to acknowledge whether he was having an affair with Levy, 24, at the time she disappeared, wasn't "credible" when he testified, Bacon said.

"He was useless. He wouldn't answer the questions," she said. Bacon said she thought it was merely a "coincidence" that Condit was having an affair with Levy at the time she disappeared.

Bacon said the jurors watched Susan Levy, Chandra's mother, closely as she sat in the courtroom. The jurors also saw her in the courthouse's halls and restrooms. Levy would never speak to them, but she would smile. "I wanted justice for the family," Bacon said. "We wanted to make sure he was the right person."

For more than three days, the jurors sat in a windowless conference room with exhibits and pictures taped to the wall. One picture, of Levy smiling and holding a red flower to her cheek, had been blown up to poster size and hung on a wall at the far end of the room.

Bacon said she was haunted by Levy's photo during the deliberations. "I wanted to know if she tried to fight him. Did she ever stop fighting? Did she ever see him or know what was happening?" Bacon recalled. "I just can't imagine."

The nine women and three men bonded during the trial. They celebrated birthdays and shared birthday cake in the jury room during lunch. They became friends and exchanged phone numbers.

"We had been together a month," Bacon said. "We took this very seriously."

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