This week, prosecutors and defense attorneys were set to travel to a California meeting, preparing for the retrial of the man charged with killing Washington intern Chandra Levy in 2001. But that travel plan changed abruptly and the murder case crumbled.
Lawyers on both sides had learned about recent secretly recorded conversations with the man who was to have been the key witness against Ingmar Guandique, Levy’s alleged killer. On Thursday, prosecutors dropped all charges against Guandique, telling defense attorneys that new information had left them unable to prove their case.
New details about how the case unraveled emerged Friday from defense attorneys, who said the case was closed shortly after prosecutors received recordings from a Maryland woman of conversations she had with star witness and jailhouse informant Armando Morales.
The woman told both sides that Morales said in the recordings that he lied when he testified that Guandique had told him about killing Levy, according to the defense attorneys from the District’s Public Defender’s Service.
The defense team never played the recordings because they believed that they had been made illegally under Maryland law, said Laura Hankins, general counsel for the Public Defender’s Service.
But after receiving the tapes, prosecutors dropped the charges, citing “new information the government received within the past week.”
Signs that the prosecution’s case was beginning to unravel emerged July 21 during a routine hearing in D.C. Superior Court.
At that hearing — one of dozens leading up to the retrial — one of the prosecutors told the judge about a witness who contacted them and told them that she had “information” about Morales.
By the weekend, the woman, Babs Proller, had told prosecutors and defense attorneys about her secret recordings of Morales. Proller, a part-time actress, said she struck up an acquaintance with Morales, who had recently been released from prison, in early July when she was living in a Maryland hotel.
“Ms. Proller indicated to us that Mr. Morales had told her that he had lied when he testified against Mr. Guandique,” said one of Guandique’s attorneys, Katerina Semyonova.
Proller made the same assertion in interviews with The Washington Post.
Prosecutors declined to discuss the recordings or specifics about why they dropped the charges because they are continuing to investigate the Levy case.
Morales testified at Guandique’s trial in 2010 that the illegal immigrant from El Salvador admitted when they were cellmates that he had killed Levy. Morales’s testimony was critical and resulted in Guandique’s conviction and a 60-year prison sentence.
Levy was a 24-year-old intern with the Federal Bureau of Prisons when she disappeared on May 1, 2001. Her remains were found in 2002 in Rock Creek Park.
The intern’s disappearance and killing captured national attention when it was revealed that she had an affair with then-Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Calif.), who was married and 30 years her senior. Police initially focused on Condit as a suspect but later cleared him.
Years later, authorities charged Guandique in the case, alleging that he had killed Levy while she was jogging in Rock Creek Park. He had pleaded guilty to attacking two other women in the park in a period close to Levy’s disappearance, and prosecutors argued that he was a predator who also attacked Levy.
But Guandique’s conviction was overturned last year because of a lie by Morales.
After the conviction, prosecutors learned that Morales had falsely said during his testimony that he had never testified as an informant before his cooperation with prosecutors in the Levy case.
Trying to prove that Guandique was the killer was difficult for prosecutors from the start. There was no forensic evidence and no eyewitness. The heart of the prosecution’s case rested with Morales, who said he shared a cell at a Kentucky prison with Guandique in 2006 and became the first to directly link Guandique to Levy’s death.
Proller, in an interview with The Post, said that she and Morales met July 6. During their conversations, Proller said, Morales had threatened to hurt her ex-husband, which prompted her to begin recording their discussions.
Proller, who according to an IMDB page has appeared on the Netflix TV series “House of Cards,” said that she thought the recordings could protect her and that she didn’t want to be implicated in any crimes against her ex-husband.
Over the course of three days, “he told me his life story,” Proller said. “He said he is a key witness in a major murder case.”
According to Proller, Morales told her that he had lied about Guandique’s confession to improve his prison conditions and that he struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.
Proller said after she told Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, about the recorded conversations she had made. Susan Levy then contacted the authorities, Proller said and Susan Levy confirmed in an interview Friday.
Susan Levy said she gave Proller a contact number for prosecutors after being told the recordings contained Morales lying. Levy said she declined to listen to the recordings because she did not want to hear the details, she told The Post. “I can’t believe we are going through this all over again,” she said.
Proller later turned over the recordings to prosecutors.
Robert Levy, Chandra Levy’s father, said in an interview Friday that he learned Thursday from prosecutors about their intent to drop the murder case against Guandique because of the Morales sessions with Proller.
He said the news of the dismissal was “hard” for his family. But he said he doesn’t believe Morales told Proller that he lied. And instead, he now blames Proller for shattering the prosecution’s case.
“Who is this woman? What is her motivation for doing this,” Levy asked in a telephone interview from his home in Modesto, Calif. “Maybe she tricked him into saying those things.”
He says he still believes Guandique killed his daughter, despite the prosecutors’ decision to dismiss the charges. “The case is already solved. But this person [Proller] helped get” him out, he said. “You have to wonder why a person would do that.”
Proller said in a Thursday interview that no one paid her to make the recordings, that running into Morales was a “coincidence,” and that she contacted the Levy family because she wanted to help.
“It is by simple coincidence that Ms. Proller came to have any involvement with this tragic situation,” according to a statement Friday from Proller’s attorney. “Ms. Proller became aware of information relevant to the case and she conveyed that information to all of the appropriate people — the prosecutors, and defense attorneys and Ms. Levy.”
Proller stepped forward, the statement said, because she “believed then, and believes now, that it was the right thing to do.”
Guandique, 34, has been jailed awaiting retrial. After his release, he will be placed in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where he faces deportation.
Robert O’Harrow and Scott Higham contributed to this report.