Man convicted in Chandra Levy slaying

Man convicted in Chandra Levy slaying
In this April 22, 2009 file photo, Ingmar Guandique, 27, who is accused of killing Chandra Levy, is escorted from the Violent Crimes Unit by police in Washington.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A man imprisoned for attacking two female joggers was found guilty Monday of murdering Washington intern Chandra Levy, wrapping up a murder mystery that took down a congressman and captured the nation's attention a decade ago.

Ingmar Guandique was convicted of first-degree murder for attacking Levy while she exercised in Washington's Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Her disappearance made headlines when she was romantically linked to then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. Condit was once a suspect, but police no longer believe he was involved in her disappearance.

Speaking outside the courthouse, Levy's mother said she'll never be free from the pain of losing her daughter.

"I have a lifetime sentence of a lost limb missing from our family tree," Susan Levy said after the hearing. "It's a lifetime of a broken heart."

Investigators eventually focused on Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, and brought formal charges last year. Prosecutors acknowledged they had little direct evidence but said Levy's death fit a pattern of other crimes committed by Guandique in the park.

The defense argued that the 29-year-old Guandique (gwahn-DEE'-kay) became a scapegoat for a botched investigation. Levy's body was found about a year after she disappeared.

In a telephone interview, Condit's lawyer Bert Fields said the verdict represents a vindication that comes too late to repair the damage his client's career. Still, trial testimony that Condit's DNA was on underwear at Levy's apartment bolstered the idea that the married politician had an affair with the intern.

"At least Gary Condit can find some measure of closure to this nightmare," Fields said. "It's a complete vindication, but that comes a little late. Who gives him his career back?" Fields said his client, whose primary loss in 2002 was largely blamed on negative publicity from the case, wasn't going to speak to reporters.

The jury deliberated over parts of four days before returning with a verdict shortly before noon Monday. Guandique was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, one alleging death as part of a kidnapping and one alleging the death as part of an attempted robbery. Jurors had the option of convicting him on a lesser charge of second-degree murder.

Guandique could be sentenced to a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of life in prison. Sentencing was set for Feb. 11.

Defense lawyer Santha Sonenberg declined comment on whether Guandique would appeal the verdict.

Guandique stared straight ahead as the verdict was read, and he shook his head as he left the courtroom. As he has throughout the trial, he wore a turtleneck that covered gang tattoos.

Levy's mother squinted and took notes during the hearing, then craned her neck to observe Guandique's reaction to the verdict.

Susan Levy had been outspoken in her suspicions of Condit during the investigation, even openly speculating about Condit's involvement in the weeks before the trial.

On Monday she indicated that she believed the jury's verdict was correct.

"It makes a difference to find the right person who is responsible for my daughter's death," she said.

While she was glad to have attended nearly every day of the trial, she added: "I can certainly tell you, it ain't closure."

Prosecutors Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez obtained a conviction even though they had no eyewitnesses and no DNA evidence linking Guandique to Levy. And Guandique never confessed to police. Prosecutors hung their hopes in large part on a former cellmate of Guandique, Armando Morales, who testified that Guandique confided in him that he killed Levy.

Morales said Guandique was worried about being labeled a rapist by fellow inmates if word got out that he was a suspect in the Levy case. According to Morales, Guandique admitted killing Levy as part of an attempted robbery, but said he never raped her.

The government also presented testimony from two women who were attacked by Guandique in May and July of 2001 in Rock Creek Park. In both cases, Guandique attacked the women from behind while they jogged on isolated trails but ran off after each woman fought him off.

Defense lawyers argued that Morales concocted the confession story to curry favor with prosecutors. While Morales has not received any benefit for his testimony, prosecutors could seek to reduce his jail time in the future.

The defense also pointed to DNA from an unknown male that was found on Levy's black running tights. The DNA matched neither Guandique nor Condit, and the defense said it was powerful evidence that the wrong person was on trial. Prosecutors argued the DNA was the result of contamination during the testing process.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, whose department was criticized for overzealously pursuing Condit, told reporters Monday that "detectives ... can sometimes discover things that were not discoverable in the beginning. The lesson is: Never give up."

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said "today's verdict does send a message that it's never too late for justice to be done."

Juror Linda Norton said the panel went through all of the evidence "in a very deliberate manner" and discussed everything thoroughly. No single piece of evidence stood out in jurors' minds, she said. Those comments were echoed by fellow juror Susan Kelly, a journalist, who said "we were very careful to evaluate all the evidence, and it was a decision based on everything that we had."

The monthlong trial featured testimony from Condit himself, who denied any involvement in Levy's disappearance or death. But as he has for the past decade, he refused to answer whether he had an affair with Levy.

However, during the trial an FBI forensic expert testified that Condit's DNA was found on Levy's underwear recovered from her apartment, but was not found anywhere at the crime scene where her remains were discovered.

Condit's father, the Rev. Adrian B. Condit, said the family was relieved at the verdict.

"I'm sure that this will lighten the load for Gary and the entire family. He's been under all the pressure of this," Adrian Condit said in a telephone interview from his home in Modesto, Calif.

The elder Condit said he was frustrated that authorities took so long to zero in on Guandique, but he said he was confident they found the right man.