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Guandique sentenced to 60 years for Levy murder

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 12, 2011; 12:07 AM

Susan Levy stood about two feet from the man convicted of killing her daughter Chandra and wasted no time telling Ingmar Guandique what she thought of him.

"Because of you, young man, you have caused us to live a Holocaust again," Levy said in a packed, hushed and rapt D.C. Superior courtroom Friday. "You have sentenced our entire family to days of sadness, tears and heartache. You are a hideous creature."

Levy stood at a podium, with Guandique two seats away, separated by his two attorneys. At times, Levy addressed Guandique directly and pointed at him. "How could you take my daughter's life? Did you really take her life? Look me in my eyes and tell me."

Judge Gerald I. Fisher, who oversaw the trial and Friday's sentencing hearing, calmly asked Susan Levy to address him and not Guandique.

"You're lower than a cockroach. Would you have done this to your mother? To your sister?" she asked Guandique.

Then, after she finished her 15-minute statement, she turned again to Guandique and snapped, "[Expletive] you" before returning to her seat. Minutes later, Fisher sentenced Guandique to 60 years in prison for killing Chandra Levy and put an end to one of Washington's most sensational murder cases.

Guandique, 29, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was convicted by a jury in November of two counts of first-degree felony murder, one related to Levy's kidnapping and the other related to trying to rob her.

Before Fisher issued his decision, Guandique stood up, paused, wiped his eyes and addressed the Levy family. It was the first time he had spoken at length in court since being charged in 2009.

"I am sorry for what happened to your daughter," he said through an interpreter. "But I had nothing to do with it. I am innocent."

The shackled Guandique appeared about 20 pounds lighter than he did at last year's trial. His features seemed more gaunt and sunken. The boyish, clean-shaven face had given way to a mustache and a goatee. His orange prison overalls didn't cover the MS-13 gang sign on his neck; during the four-week trial, it was hidden by a turtleneck and sport coat that he wore each day.

Levy, a 24-year-old former federal intern, disappeared in May 2001. Her skeletal remains were discovered in Rock Creek Park a year later. Levy's disappearance immediately generated worldwide interest when it was discovered that she had an affair with Gary A. Condit, the married congressman from her California home town who was 30 years her senior. Condit was the first suspect in Levy's disappearance and was later cleared.

Guandique's attorneys, Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo of the District's Public Defender Service, had petitioned Fisher for a new trial. The attorneys argued that the prosecution's closing argument focused on Guandique's past acts and other information not in evidence, which they said unfairly prejudiced the jury. The attorneys also argued that jurors failed to follow a judge's order about not sharing notes during deliberations.

But Fisher denied the motion Friday.

Before the sentencing, Guandique's attorneys argued that their client had an abusive childhood, grew up without running water or electricity, and suffered physical and emotional scars from his upbringing. A psychologist who examined Guandique wrote that he had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old.

Fisher was unmoved. The judge called Levy's slaying a "truly horrible crime" and called Guandique a "dangerous person."

"Dangerous to women, in particular," Fisher said. "And will be a danger for some time. He's a sexual predator. Nobody else should be at the mercy of Mr. Guandique like Ms. Levy."

Fisher acknowledged that the prosecution's case "wasn't a very strong" one - and was based on circumstantial evidence. Fisher said the strongest evidence linking Guandique to Levy's death included Guandique's previous attacks on two female joggers, testimony from witnesses who placed Guandique in the park at the time Levy disappeared and the testimony of Guandique's cellmate, Armando Morales, who said Guandique admitted to him that he killed Levy in the park.

Under sentencing guidelines, Guandique faced a minimum of 30 years in prison, which Guandique's attorneys argued was more than enough.

But prosecutors asked Fisher to sentence Guandique to life in prison without parole.

Fisher said he considered Guandique's previous convictions for burglary and assault and about 30 infractions prosecutors claimed Guandique had committed while serving a 10-year prison sentence for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park about the time Levy disappeared. In a Jan. 22, handwritten letter to a reporter at The Washington Post, Guandique said the evidence presented by the government, including Morales's testimony, was "false."

"Everything about this case was a stupid, comedic farce that the detectives and prosecutors have engaged in," Guandique wrote. "I know there are people who believe in my innocence and to those people who believe in my innocence I say you are not mistaken, because I am innocent." Guandique said he was a scapegoat.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said he was "pleased" with the sentence. According to District law, Guandique will have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence - about 50 years - before being eligible for release.

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