Verdict in Chandra Levy case

Christopher Metzler
Former Prosecutor and Law Expert, Georgetown University
Monday, November 22, 2010; 1:30 PM

Georgetown University law expert and former prosecutor Christopher Metzler was online Monday, Nov. 22, at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss the verdict in the Chandra Levy case.


Christopher Metzler: Hi Christopher Metzler from Georgetown University to take your questions. I am also a former prosecutor. Look forward to the chat.


Alexandria, Va.: The Post broke the Guandique story and pursued it, and it has been superb reporting.

I am, however, concerned about the jury's verdict. I have no doubt whatsoever of Guandique's guilt. But the actual evidence adduced at trial was genuinely thin. What are people saying about appellate and post-verdict risks -- reversal, dismissal, remand, reduction-at-sentencing, etc?

Christopher Metzler: I think that of course there will be appeals. Keep in mind that at the appellate level, it is not a "retrial." That is, the three-judge panel will look to see if there were errors of law. If so, thye have several options including granting a new trial.


Alexandria, Va.: With all the negative press coverage in this area about this case, do you think there should have been a change of venue?

Christopher Metzler: I don't think a change of venue would have mattered. With cable, the Internet and so many other forms of media, the information would have been widely available to any potential jury pool.


Conviction based on a "pattern": Can you really convict someone of a crime based on a prior "pattern"? Because there was ZERO evidence of THIS crime, only testimony from other women about OTHER crimes? I'm not saying he didn't do it, I'm just saying it is remarkable that this case wasn't dismissed long ago based on a complete lack of evidence.

Christopher Metzler: Keep in mind that the jury heard quite a bit of evidence. Generally, juries will look at all of the evidence, not just a so-called pattern. Part of the question (and we have not heard from the jury) is how much weight did they place on testimony of the jail house informants as well as other evidence.


Fairfax, Va.: What happens now? Does Guandique return to jail or do they transfer him to another location? Will he appeal?

Christopher Metzler: Most likely, he will be returned to jail pending sentencing. Keep in mind he was already in jail on other charges so will most likely returned there. He most likely will appeal questions of law.


Washington, D.C.: When will the jurors be able to speak?

Christopher Metzler: Once the jury is dismissed, it is generally up to them if they wish to speak.

_______________________ Ingmar Guandique convicted of first-degree murder of former intern Chandra Levy (Post, Nov. 22)


Oakton, Va.: Can comments the jurors make in interviews after the verdict be used for the basis for an appeal?

Christopher Metzler: Generally no unless there is an indication of juror misconduct. For example, with the use of technology is there evidence that in the trial, the jurors were getting texts message about evidence they were not supposed to have?


Washington, D.C.: What does the length of deliberation say about the jury and how they weighed the evidence and the testimony? Were there clues beforehand to how they were going to find Guandique based on the duration of deliberation and the questions they were asking of the judge?

Christopher Metzler: Length of deliberation is always a tough call. As are the questions they asked the judge. Some juries are more exacting than others and go through each and every piece of evidence. Others take the evidence at face value and others may take a straw vote at the start of deliberations and there may be no disagreement as to guilt.


Prior acts: I went to law school many years ago and never practiced criminal law, but I seem to remember that prior similar acts were NOT admissable in court, because even if the defendant had, say, forged dozens of checks in the past, that s/he had forged this particular check. What am I missing?

Christopher Metzler: I don't think that you are missing anything. However, recall that generally evidence of past bad acts by a criminal defendant is not admissible to prove that the defendant is a bad person and therefore committed the crime charged. However, evidence of past bad acts will be admitted for other purposes such as to show motive, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of a mistake or accident.


Washington, D.C.: Does this vindicate Gary Condit?

Christopher Metzler: It vindicates him of murder. The question is does it vindicate him of being what some would say is a CAD?


Washington, D.C.: Did the defense motion for a mistrial after the prosecution completed its case?

Christopher Metzler: Let me check. But, I am pretty sure that defense made a motion for dismissal after the prosecution completed its case. This is fairly standard and routinely denied.


Washington, D.C.: You're an experienced prosecutor and a professor of great esteem at a highly competitive university, and you've followed the case. Do you believe Ingmar Guandique killed Chandra Levy?

Christopher Metzler: I did not have a chance to see all of the evidence that the jury did. I do have to say that I do have some questions about the evidence and the way that it was presented. Not sure that the prosecution met its burden of proof. But, this is purely Monday morning quarterbacking on my part.


Washington, D.C.: I remember the, then, chief of police, discounting the possibility that Guandique was a likely suspect in Levy's disappearance because he had passed a lie detector test. Since lie detector tests often don't "work" especially with psychopaths or those whose native tongue is not English, I thought the chief's dismissal was precipitous. (This is the same chief who dismissed witness descriptions of the car of the gunman who shot the gentleman sitting on a bench in Takoma Park, a description that matched the actual car when found.) Was there not enough probable cause for a search of Guandique's living quarters/clothing any kind? What evidence was there to tie him to the other two women's attacks?

Christopher Metzler: This points to some of the evidence problems that I wrote about earlier. In the trial Mendez (investigator) told of receiving a 2003 letter from Guandique in which he spoke of a "muchacha muerta" -- a dead girl. Prosecutors suggest this was referring to Levy's murder, as part of a litany of misdeeds being recounted by Guandique. Defense attorneys on Tuesday had challenged Mendez's account, but on Wednesday Mendez confirmed her earlier grand jury testimony that the "muchacha muerta" reference.


Arlington, Va.: Wow. I only know what I read/hear in the papers and on the news, but I am just amazed. There was no evidence whatsoever that he committed this crime! I really think it was an emotional rather than a logical decision. One of my roommates has studied juries quite a bit and he says this is one flaw with the system; very few can be truly objective in this kind of case.

Christopher Metzler: Juries are hard to predict. Yes, there are some problems with juries. But, it's the system we have.


Dallas Tex.: Is the crime of felony murder, considering it happened in a national park, eligible for the federal death penalty; and if so, will the prosecutors pursue it?

Christopher Metzler: The death penalty is not being considered here. As to the felony murder charge in this case, the felony murder charges assert that Guandique killed Levy during an attempted robbery, a kidnapping or both. The kidnapping relates to Levy being dragged off a trail into the woods.


Washington, D.C.: Since Guandique is an illegal immigrant, will he face deportation instead of serving a sentence? Would he be deported after he serves his current sentence(s)?

Christopher Metzler: I seriously doubt that the prosecution would allow deportation in lieu of life in prison. He can technically be deported after he serves his sentence. It is likely that life will be the sentence so deportation most likely will not happen.


Arlington, Va.: What part did the Washington Post 2008 series, who killed Sandra Levy, play in this prosecution? Would there have been an arrest and a trial without this series? Was the defendant convicted in the newspapers before he ever got near a court?

Christopher Metzler: Great question. As you recall, the case was cold until Chief Lanier took over. The focus had always be on the details about the Condit affair. I think the Post Series injected new life into the case.


Washington, D.C.: Do you think Levy's death was an accident and that Guandique did not intend to kill her but only to rob her?

Christopher Metzler: It's hard to say. Especially since there was no physical evidence present in this case.

_______________________ Full Coverage: A trial in Chandra Levy's death


New York, N.Y.: I thought it was interesting that Gary Condit was not actually required on the stand to say whether he had an affair with Levy or not, even though he was asked by attorneys. Can you comment on the legal reasons around this?

Christopher Metzler: There is no legal reason to require that he answer this question. Keep in mind that he was not on trial for either having an affair with Levy or for the murder. Thus, the defense could have correctly objected on the basis of relevance.


Washington, DC.. - Appeal Issue: 1. Juror post-verdict testimony can be admitted to consider evidence of intentional refusal to follow pattern instructions, such as nullification.

2. There are substantial preserved objections as to (a) weight to be afforded the testimony of the jailhouse informants, and (b) the treatment of cross-examination questioning about CJS benefits to those informants.

Guandique is clearly guilty. But the verdict is defective, and there could easily be a reversal.

Christopher Metzler: Agreed. Jury nullification (thus juror misconduct) is clearly grounds for appeal. As to number two, the grounds for appeal can be successful so long as his attorneys properly preserved the objections in the record. That is, they made the basis for their objection of evidence, testimony etc., known on the record and the judge improperly overruled them. These of course are questions of law.

The grounds you have stated can and do work only if he had effective counsel.


Pawtucket, R.I.: Hi, I'm wondering if there's anything you can tell me about how he managed to remain free after serving time for attacking other women, since he was in the country illegally. Isn't it typical that someone in his situation would have been deported?

Christopher Metzler: This is the lingering question of immigration and enforcement of existing laws. In order to deport him, they would have to catch him first.


Arlington, Va.: With a jury of 9 women and 3 men, do you think that swayed the outcome of the verdict?

Christopher Metzler: Hard to say. As a former prosecutor, I would always consider having women on a jury where the victim is a woman.


Newport Beach, Calif.: Who were the jurors (how many Hispanics, Jewish, blacks, whites?

Being Hispanic in these controversial times, can justify and blind legal democracy (CLU)?

What strong basis was used by the jury to reach their conclusion?

Christopher Metzler: We don't yet know how the jury weighed the evidence. So, it's hard to say.


Washington, D.C.: Okay, so now we have a guilty verdict but no hard evidence that Guandinque is the real murderer.

Do we all feel better now that someone, anyone has taken responsibility?

Christopher Metzler: Understandable comment. The jury system with all of its warts is the system we have.


Washington, D.C.: So did they convict him on circumstantial evidence?

Christopher Metzler: Yes. But, keep in mind that juries convict on circumstantial evidence all of the time. The legal question on appeal will be, in part, was it the right circumstantial evidence? Not whether circumstantial evidence can be used.


Christopher Metzler: Thank you all for allowing me to be part of the chat. Look for the jury to talk. It will be really interesting to hear what they have to say. Also, look for appeals. I have prosecuted thin cases before. Not sure the prosecution met its burden in this one.


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