washingtonpost.com
D.C. Police Believed Close to Arrest in Levy Case

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham
AME, Investigations, Washington Post Reporters
Monday, February 23, 2009 1:00 PM

D.C. police are seeking an arrest warrant against a Salvadoran immigrant in connection with the eight-year-old slaying of federal intern Chandra Levy, one of the most famous unsolved homicide cases in Washington history, according to law enforcement sources.

In an interview Saturday, Susan Levy, Chandra's mother, said she was told by D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Lt. Michael Farish, a supervisor of the department's cold-case squad, that investigators had made a breakthrough.

Jeff Leen, Washington Post assistant managing editor of Investigations and Post reporters Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham were online Monday, Feb. 23, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the case and how the breakthrough came about.

A transcript follows.

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Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: The three of us are here to answer your questions. We're eager to get started.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

I know that hindsight is 20:20, but how could the PD ignore Guandique as a suspect (or at least not pursue him as actively) when his modus operandi was identical?

Kudos to the Post for doing that investigative on-line report a few months ago!

Thanks.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Thank you for your comment. The police and press were singularly focused on Gary Condit and his relationship with Chandra Levy. At the same time, Ingmar Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was attacking women in Rock Creek Park. The police at the time simply did not put the two together. Months went by before Guandique got on their radar. When he did, they disregarded him as a suspect after any inconclusive polygraph. Anyone interested in the details can find them in our 13-part series on the case, which ran last July, at washingtonpost.com/chandra

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washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Who Killed Chandra Levy?

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Silver Spring, Md.: What new evidence do they think they have? Obviously it is not a confession.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Mayor Fenty are planning to hold a press conference at 3:30 p.m. We hope to know more after that. There is much speculation about the new evidence--DNA, a jailhouse confession--but we have not been able to confirm what it is.

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Arlington, Va.: Is Gary Condit sleeping easier tonight?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Gary Condit has put out a statement saying that he is "glad" for his family and the Levys.

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Houston, Tex.: In light of the breakthrough in the Chandra Levy case, does the Post plan to reprint the excellent series it ran on the case last year? At a time when much of the media had long since lost interest in the case, the Post's reporters shed new light on a complex story, dispelling many of the false allegations, including those against Gary Condit.

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Who Killed Chandra Levy?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: So far, we have no plans to reprint the series. But it lives on line at washingtonpost.com/chandra, along with our Reporter's Notebook where we take you behind the scenes of our investigation. You can also hear a prison interview with Ingmar Guandique and also view a video about the Levy family.

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Washington, D.C.: I want to thank you and your Post colleagues. Without the 2008 retrospective series, the D.C. police would simply never have moved on this case. The ineptitude they demonstrated (literally for years) should have led to a good dozen-plus firings.

washingtonpost.com: Special Report: Who Killed Chandra Levy?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Thank you for your comment.

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Oak Hill, Va.: Reports say that the police have new DNA evidence. However, when Chandra Levy's remains were found, the public was informed that the DNA at the crime scene had been contaminated and was unusable. So, what do you think the new evidence is?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: After our series, we know that the police reexamined the physical evidence in the case and conducted DNA analysis, using Guandique's DNA. Materials that may have been tested included Guandique's clothes and Chandra's belongings found in Rock Creek Park. We do not yet know the results.

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Washington, D.C.: What do we know about this breakthrough in the case? Is it more than a cellmate claiming that Ingmar Guandique conveniently confessed after years of silence?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: We do not yet know what the breakthrough is. We, like everyone else, are waiting for today's press conference.

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Arlington, Va.: This is great that we can get some closure on this case but it's a little anti-climatic based on the fact that anyone who read the 10 part series that the Post did last year knew right then who killed Levy! It was pretty obvious.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Thank you for your comment. We know that our series reenergized the police investigation, which we have been told has been conducted with professionalism and thoroughness, unlike the case back in 2001. We know that witnesses were interviewed and DNA tests conducted in the fall after the series. Our series documented the circumstantial evidence that pointed to Guandique, but we know believe police have something new that they have discovered on their own.

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Rockville, Md.: Is their any legitimate pride in the Post newsroom today? Would we be at this point in the Levy case were it not for the Post series last summer? It just seems coincidental that an arrest happens just months after the Post published this series, especially after seven years of nothing!

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Thank you for your comment. Our interest, as it was when we started investigating this case more than a year ago, is getting to the truth of what happened to Chandra Levy in Rock Creek Park.

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Washington, D.C.: Why did you help the police? Isn't that against journalism ethical rules?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: We did not work with the police on this case. We did our own independent investigation to see if we could find out what happened. We provided our findings to the public, not the police.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: Why is Guandique serving his time in California for assaults committed here?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Guandique was convicted of a felony, and convicted felons in DC serve their time in the federal prison system, which can result in their transfer far from Washington.

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Ingmar question: Have you gotten any flack about it being sort of un-PC about blaming an undocumented worker?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: We have received more reader's response to this investigation than anything else we have done. We have heard pro and con on many, many issues.

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20036: What frightens me the most about this case is that at no time were there ever any warnings posted or put out by the police to alert women to the assaults taking place within the radius of Rock Creek Park that affects many neighborhoods in D.C. -- including Dupont, Adams Morgan, Cleveland and Woodley Park, Mount Pleasant, upper 16th Street. as a single female living in DuPont at the time of Chandra's murder it was frightening, especially in light of other high profile murders around the same time like Joyce Chen and that woman found not far from the GU campus

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: There were no warnings put out by police at the time. We do not know U.S. Park Police procedures when it comes to these kinds of cases.

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But why: But why did Chandra travel from The Newport to the area around the horse stables? How have the police accounted for that distance, especially considering she was on foot, without ID or a purse, wallet? That's quite a walk to go for a run.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: No one knows how see got to the park. That is one of the enduring mysteries of the case.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: An arrest is all well and good but it is reasonable to expect a conviction?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: It is easier to get an arrest than to win a conviction in court or a plea bargain. It will depend upon the quality of the evidence and the strength of the prosecution's case.

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Chevy Chase, D.C.: "Guandique was convicted of a felony, and convicted felons in D.C. serve their time in the federal prison system, which can result in their transfer far from Washington."

That doesn't sound right. There are a lot of convicted felons in Lorton. Could it be his felony occurred on government property, i.e., the park?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Lorton has been closed for years and now DC prisoners are sent to federal facilities across the country.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think if it weren't for the Condit connection, this case would have been solved sooner? Eight years is too long.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: The Condit connection took away the police focus and resources at a critical juncture in the investigation. It put them on a path and made it hard for them to refocus their efforts on other suspects.

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Joyce Chen : Is her murder being connected to this?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: We have seen no evidence of any connection between the Chandra Levy case and the Joyce Chen homicide.

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Conspiracy Theorists: There are still those out there, the author of a book on this case in particular, that still claim Condit was involved and that Guandique is a 'fall guy' as a cover-up. They will likely say that even if Guandique killed her, he was hired by Condit? What say ye to these theorists that hold such a view?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: We have seen no evidence to support a connection between Guandique and Condit.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: As someone not familiar with the area, how far was her apartment from where she was headed (horse stables)? And is it mostly along the path by Rock Creek Parkway?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: It is several from her Dupont Circle apartment to where her body was found deep in the woods of Rock Creek Park. The path she is believed to have taken was the Western Ridge Trail, a popular hiking path in the park.

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Fairfax, Va.: Having an affair may be immoral, but it doesn't make a person a murderer. Sheesh. With all the "playing around" that goes on on the Hill, you'd think the police would have looked further afield.

Gary Condit claims that his defeat in a re-election bid was due to redistricting, and he's moved to Arizona, correct? Do you know what he's doing now?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Condit has left California and is now splitting his time between Arizona and Colorado. He ran two Baskin Robbins ice cream stores in Arizona, but no longer has those franchises.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Why was Guandique's status as an illegal immigrant not reported in your article?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: It was reported in our series but inadvertently left out of our story on Sunday. He was in the country illegally.

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Rockville, Md.: How did news of this "breakthrough" get out? Was it from the Levys who had been contacted by the D.C. Police? They have been vey media savvy throughout this whole eight-year ordeal. I can't imagine the police leaking the news last Friday and waiting until today for a news conference/statement.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Pat Collins, a reporter for WRC TV NBC 4 in Washington broke the story Friday night that police were preparing an arrest warrant for Guandique. Hearing the story was about to break, Chief Lanier called the Levys to alert them. The Levys said they were told by Lanier and another police official that an arrest was coming in the next couple of days.

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Lone wolf:: So you all are pretty convinced it was this Guandique character who killer her, it seems. I don't know if I'm there yet. His later attacks were less violent. How do you reconcile the differences?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: If an arrest is made, it is up to the police and prosecutors to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Both of the victims in the so-called later attacks were jumped at knifepoint by Guandique and believed their lives were in danger. They both fought back and managed to escape. Both of the women were much taller than Chandra, and one had taken a self-defense class.

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Arlington, Va.: Let's not feel sorry for Gary Condit. There was good reason to initially suspect him in her disappearance, especially his continual evasive behavior and lies about his relationship with Ms. Levy. Most murder victims are killed by someone they knew. And Condit could have had motive if he thought she was going to tell of the affair and ruin his career. If he had no involvement fine, but his getting caught in multiple adulteries was his own doing and he reaped the consequences. Simple as that.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Behind the scenes, Condit told police during his very first interview with them that he had a relationship with Chandra. He did three more interviews, submitted a DNA sample, allowed police to search his apartment and underwent a privately administered polygraph. He felt that he didn't need to talk to the press or public about what he considered to be a private matter. But some of his later actions drew suspicions, including his disposal of a box that once contained a watch given to him by a former girlfriend.

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Oak Hill, VA: The other murdered woman's name was Joyce Chiang -- not Chen. See Joyce Chiang (Wikipedia)

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Thanks for the correction.

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Distance: According to Google maps, the horse tables are 4.4 miles away from her apartment building. D.C. residents know that to be an uphill 4.4 miles, too. Google estimates it would take 1 hour and 33 minutes walking to reach that area of the park.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: Thanks for the precision.

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NYC: How do you arrest a man who's already in prison?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: You bring a new charge.

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Anonymous: Why did the Condit connection slow this investigation? Why weren't investigators unable to rule out Condit earlier?

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: We sort of answered this already, but a combination of the media attention, pressure to solve a high-profile case, the involvement of a congressmen and the failure to promptly process and follow up ledes all slowed the investigation.

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Herndon, Va.: Did anyone question the police as to the wisdom of excluding a suspect based upon an inconclusive polygraph?

To my knowledge, polygraphs are not accurate diagnostic tools. At most they can goad a suspect into confessing.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: There were at least three key problems with excluding Guandique based on a polygraph. 1) In this case, police did not use a bilingual polygrapher, which can cause potential problems in translation. 2) The results of polygraphs are considered so unreliable that they cannot be submitted as evidence in court. 3) His polygraph was inconclusive, and the examiner could not determine whether he was being deceptive or truthful when he was asked about Chandra.

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20902: Gary Condit didn't kill her, but he stonewalled the police and tried to subvert justice for 67 days in order to hide his affair with Chandra. He is getting what he deserved.

And while the D.C. police didn't distinguish themselves in the '01 investigation, Condit's squirrely behavior fed their prejudices. If you lived here in 2001, you were convinced that he had something to do with her disappearence.

Jeff Leen, Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham: And he paid a price for it.

We're out of time. Thanks for your interest and be sure to check on our website, washingtonpost.com/investigations for updates and for our 13-part series.

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washingtonpost.com: Washington Post Investigations

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washingtonpost.com: This Just In: We have learned that there will be no Chandra Levy press conference today.

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