Condit's Key Role in Chandra Levy Murder Trial

Defense in Levy case raises questions about Condit

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Photos of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy in this Tuesday, May 28, 2002 file photo taken at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. Media reports Saturday Feb. 21, 2009 in Washington and California say that an arrest may be close in the slaying of the former federal intern whose disappearance ended Gary Condit's congressional career. The warrant is expected to be for a prison inmate convicted of attacking two female joggers in the same Washington park where Levy's remains were found.

    The same "tunnel vision" that caused police to overzealously pursue then-Congressman Gary Condit as a suspect in the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy has now been unfairly trained on the man on trial for her murder, defense lawyers argued Tuesday.

    Still, the attorneys also used closing arguments to question Condit's behavior since Levy's disappearance, saying he has acted "like a guilty man." Ultimately, they argued, the government's case against a Salvadoran immigrant rests solely on lies by a prison inmate seeking to curry favor with the government.

    Ingmar Guandique is accused of murdering Levy nearly a decade ago while she exercised in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Her remains were found in the park roughly a year after she went missing.

    Levy's disappearance became a national sensation when she was romantically linked to Condit, a Democrat who represented California and who was initially the police's main suspect. Authorities no longer believe he was involved. Condit testified earlier this month that he had nothing to do with the disappearance or killing.

    Public defender Santha Sonenberg reminded the jury Tuesday how fervently police pursued Condit.

    "Back in 2001 the tunnel vision in this case was with regard to Mr. Condit. By 2008, 2009, the tunnel vision had changed and it focused on our client," Sonenberg said.

    Yet Sonenberg also focused much of her closing arguments on Condit. She pointed a finger at Condit's direction, though she never explicitly accused him of involvement.

    "He does things like a guilty man," Sonenberg said of Condit's behavior in the months after Levy's May 2001 disappearance

    Sonenberg noted that Condit took the Fifth Amendment in grand jury testimony in 2002, which is allowed only when a witness believes he will incriminate himself by answering. Condit, in trial testimony, said he took the Fifth because he was angry at prosecutors who he believed were out to get him.

    Sonenberg also said that Condit repeatedly refused to answer whether he had an affair with Levy, even when asked directly during trial. Condit said during the trial that he was entitled some privacy.

    Sonenberg said there is powerful evidence of Guandique's innocence, including DNA from an unknown male found on Levy's tights. The DNA matches neither Guandique nor Condit, and Guandique's DNA was never found on anything connected to Levy.

    Prosecutors argue that the DNA likely came from contamination by someone who handled Levy's tights as evidence. Sonenberg pointed out that the government could have checked the DNA against anybody who handled the tights, but apparently failed to do so.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines, meanwhile, acknowledged that the case against Guandique lacks DNA evidence or eyewitnesses. But she asked jurors to use their common sense and to believe the testimony of a prison inmate who says Guandique confided in him that he killed Levy.

    "Justice is what needs to happen for this young girl," Haines said, holding up a smiling photo of Levy to the jury. "She's been waiting nine years for justice."

    Haines said Levy's death fits a pattern of two other attacks committed by Guandique on female joggers in Rock Creek park in May and July of 2001. Guandique was convicted in those assaults and is serving a 10-year sentence.

    And she said the testimony of Guandique's former cellmate, Armando Morales, is particularly compelling. Morales testified that Guandique was scared of being labeled a rapist by other inmates, and admitted killing Levy but denied raping her.

    Haines said Morales' testimony included details that prove the confession was not fabricated. Morales said that Guandique told him he attacked Levy from behind, the same method that was used against the other two women assaulted by Guandique. Guandique also admitted to Morales that he had attacked other women who had fought him off, which fits the pattern of his other two attacks in Rock Creek Park.

    Defense lawyers argue that Morales concocted the confession story to curry favor with prosecutors.

    The jury will begin deliberations on Wednesday.