Judge Orders New Trial for Chandra Levy Murder

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The man convicted of killing intern Chandra Levy, a scandal that ended the political career of former Congressman Gary Condit, will be getting a new trial, a judge ruled Thursday.
     The court docket does not yet reflect this change, but the Associated Press reported that Judge Gerald Fisher with the D.C. Superior Court granted Ingmar Guandique’s motion for a new trial.
     Guandique had been sentenced to 60 years in prison in February 2011 after a jury found him guilty of murdering Levy, a 24-year-old intern for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons who had been having an affair with then-Rep. Condit before her disappearance in May 2001.
     Levy’s body was found 13 months after she disappeared. Prosecutors acknowledged that numerous mistakes by police and forensic scientists had hindered the investigation.
     Though Condit was ultimately cleared of involvement in Levy’s death, and prosecutors eventually honed in on Guandique, the Democratic congressman lost his bid for re-election in California.
     The prosecution’s case against Guandique, then a 29-year-old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, included testimony from a cellmate who said Guandique had admitted the crime.
     Two women also testified that Guandique had attacked them in Rock Creek Park around the time of Levy’s murder.
     Guandique moved for new trial shortly after his conviction, claiming that the government’s closing arguments were “improper” and that jurors in the trial “did not follow the court’s instruction with respect to the use to be made of any notes the jurors took.”
     Specifically, Guandique said the prosecution’s closing included facts not in evidence and elicited improper sympathy by speaking “as if … narrating a horror movie.”
     The District Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment on the new-trial order.
     A memorandum in support of Guandique’s motion, submitted by Jonathan Anderson of the public defender service, suggests the government used “false and misleading” testimony to build up the credibility of its key witness, the cellmate Armando Morales.
     Though the prosecution was quick to characterize the witness as a “boy scout,” Morales allegedly heard Guandique confess in 2006 to killing Levy but did not report the confession until 2009, apparently because of his adherence to a “code of silence,” according to Anderson’s memo.
     Anderson notes that Morales gave information to police on numerous other occasions before he testified against Guandique. The memo further alleges the government knew or should have known about most of the discrepancies in Morales’ story.
     If not for the emphasis on Morales’ code of silence, jurors would have concluded Morales saw the news coverage of Guandique’s connection to the Levy murder, studied the case and then capitalized on the time he spend in prison with Guandique, the memo says.
     Anderson says this would have damaged Morales’ credibility, a factor that Morales’ criminal past already called into question.
     The government initially opposed the new trial, but formally withdrew its opposition on May 22, in part because prosecutors deemed it difficult to disprove the statements in Guandique’s motion using testimony because of the time that has elapsed since trial.
     That notice emphasizes the government’s belief “that the jury’s verdict was correct.”
     “The govemment also believes that nothing in the thousands of pages of information that have been produced about Mr. Morales and the USAO-DC’s prosecution of the defendant nor anything else revealed by the government’s comprehensive post-trial investigation, casts doubt on the defendant’s guilt of the murder of Chandra Levy,” Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent Cohen Jr. wrote. “Accordingly, the govemment is preparing for a retrial of the defendant.
     A status hearing is set for June 12 at noon.

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