City Desk

The Forgotten Discovery of Ingmar Guandique’s Name

As the trial of Ingmar Guandique for the 2001 death of Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy continues this week, the name of former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California still looms in connection to Levy's high-profile disappearance, which dominated national media in the spring and summer of 2001.

According to The Associated Press, a defense attorney asked a prospective juror last week if she would be willing to hear evidence that Condit may be tied to Levy's death. Condit may end up testifying about his relationship with Levy, which he has never spoken about in detail.

But Condit isn't the one on trial. Guandique is. And it's worth revisiting a bit of overlooked history about how Guandique's name initially surfaced in connection with the Levy case.

When Levy's body was found in Rock Creek Park in May 2002, the national news media was transfixed on the apparent secret relationship between the congressman and Levy. But Roll Call reporter Amy Keller put on her thinking cap: "[W]hile my colleagues speculated on the proximity of Condit's Adams Morgan apartment to the section of park where Levy's body was recovered on May 22, I wondered if the location of her body might point to another possibility: Perhaps Levy really was the victim of a random attack."

That led Keller to sift through police reports of other attacks in Rock Creek Park. She found the name of Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant who was serving a federal sentence for attacking two women in Rock Creek Park near where Levy's body was discovered, off the Broad Branch trail.

Keller recounted her Guandique reporting in a Salon piece in 2002, including how her discovery was met with skepticism by those transfixed on Condit's connection to Levy.

A few days later, I also got a call from a reporter who has been covering the Levy investigation for the Modesto Bee, Condit's hometown paper.

"I saw your story last week," he said, adding, "I've got a theory I want to run by you." I told the reporter, whom I'd never spoken to before, to go ahead.

He then proceeded to ask me if Condit's lawyer, Mark Geragos—a high-profile criminal defense attorney and ubiquitous TV presence who had also recently represented the actress Winona Ryder—had "orchestrated" the story.

The reporter believed that it was most likely Geragos who had leaked information to me about the so-called Rock Creek Park predator so that Condit's staff and supporters would then have a news story to distribute that would make him look good. And he said that a number of other reporters had also found the timing of my story curious. It showed up in print, after all, the day after Levy's bones turned up in the park.

I stammered out a "No, that's now how it happened at all," and fought back the urge to ask him whether he was also investigating the theory that White House officials had planted Levy's bones in the park in an effort to divert attention from stories alleging they had ample warning of the Sept. 11 attacks. I also stifled the desire to tell him where to stick his theory—that none of my sources were any of his, nor any other reporter's, business.

Calmly—and probably a little too nicely—I explained that I simply used one part hunch, two cups of research and one-quarter teaspoon of source-based reporting, otherwise known as conversing with the cops. No, Gary Condit's lawyer had definitely not planted this one, I told him.

Six years later, The Washington Post published an exhaustive multi-series investigation titled "Who Killed Chandra Levy?," which brought additional attention to the Guandique-Levy connection. (Guandique was charged with Levy's murder in March 2009.) But the Post neglected to mention Keller's initial shoe-leather reporting in finding Guandique's name.

I'm a bit biased on this one, since I used to sit next to Keller when I worked at Roll Call. After Guandique was charged with Levy's murder, Harry Jaffe, in Washingtonian magazine, wrote that former Post executive editor Len Downie "gave himself and the Post credit for finally cracking the Chandra Levy case," saying that "the paper’s 2008 series on police missteps in the original investigation prodded cops to make an arrest," even though police and prosecutors said the Post's series "was irrelevant."

In the nine years since Levy disappeared, there's been plenty of finger-pointing and accusations of a botched investigation by police. Depending on what happens, perhaps Guandique's trial will bring some closure to what has gone down as one of the most intriguing and frustrating murder investigations in D.C. history.

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  • Rick Mangus

    Let's see the police have already messed-up the evidence and the US Attorney's office doesn't know how to proceed. Sounds like the Swann Street Three Case all over again! This guy is going to walk!

  • Ugh

    Never underestimate the incompetence of the D.C. government. This place is a criminal's paradise -- the government works to take guns out of the hands of future victims, provides endless "free" housing to thugs, and then botches investigations.

  • Dan Hand

    Late in the summer of 2001, while Ingmar Guandique was in the D.C. lock-up, awaiting trial on his two muggings in Rock Creek Park, a snitch claimed that Guandique had confessed to the killing of Chandra Levy. According to the snitch, Rep. Gary Condit had stopped his car, as Guandique was simply walking down the street, and propositioned the young illegal immigrant to commit her murder-- despite the fact that Guandique spoke little English, and Condit, as far as anyone knows, speaks little, if any, Spanish. It was, in other words, a patently ridiculous claim.

    The snitch failed an F.B.I. polygraph in November; Guandique passed his the following February. The federal prosecutor in his case for mugging the two women after Chandra Levy went missing-- on May 14 and July 1, 2001--stated in open court that he was cleared in the Levy disappearance. The judge added that she never believed that he had anything to do with the Levy case.

    All of the law-enforcement authorities involved knew of Guandique's two muggings in Rock Creek Park in July 2001-- the same month that the park was searched for any trace of the missing Levy-- and none of them believed that he was associated with her disappearance. The only reason that he became a suspect was because of the patently absurd claim by a fellow inmate of a confession-- an inmate who, according to the "Post" series in 2008, was himself then serving a life sentence for the sexual abuse of another D.C. woman!

    After Levy's remains were found, a new federal prosecutor decided to nail Guandique for the murder of Levy. She set a grand jury upon his trail, beating the bushes for any witnesses and additional evidence, and pressuring his friends and associates, many of who were also illegal aliens, and thus subject to added coercion from such a federal prosecutor. Despite her zealous efforts, she was unable to produce an indictment.

    After the "Post" series ran in July 2008, and with fresh egg on their collective face, the authorities decided to clear up the mess by charging Guandique in Levy's death, and letting the chips fall where they may. They did not risk another grand jury; they simply arrested him on a warrant, and then charged him with a list of crimes unsupported by anything more than supposition. They did not produce any new evidence unavailable in the fall of 2002, when the grand jury had been impaneled and chose not to indict him, aside from subsequently alleged jailhouse confessions.

    Guandique was convicted by having his two mugging victims-- neither of whom was injured or sexually assaulted-- recount their attacks, and graphically project their subjective fears about what might have happened to them, had they not both resisted. The fact that a knife-wielding Guandique simply ran away from each victim, rather than injure or kill either, was the salient, but unmentioned, fact that made an attack on, and the killing of, Levy by Guandique implausible. Criminals seldom deescalate in their level of violence; if Guandique had killed Levy on May 1, 2001, he should not have hesitated to kill the subsequent two victims, on May 14 and July 1, 2001, respectively.

    The jury was also subject to the emotional-- if irrelevant, immaterial and incompetent-- testimony of Dr. Levy, who explained that he would have said anything against Gary Condit during the years that the Levys held him responsible for their daughter's death. The obvious fact that he would do likewise now against Guandique also went unspoken!

    The linchpin in the Guandique trial was the testimony of a single snitch-- although the government claimed that it had several, and promised the jury that it would hear from more than one. That snitch, gangbanging career criminal Armando Morales, is known to have lied on the stand-- claiming that he had refused to see a defense investigator because she had dressed provocatively, in a skimpy tee shirt and shorts, in order to seduce him! Not only did the prison official in charge testify that such dress was not allowed for any visitor, but the investigator herself testified as to what she actually wore that day-- and even held up the pants that she wore for the jury to see! Judges usually instruct a jury that if they find that a witness lied about one thing on the stand, they may reject his testimony altogether. I do not know if that instruction was given in this case. In addition, however, the inmate who had shared a cell with both Guandique and Morales testified that Guandique had made no such confession in his presence.

    The conviction of Ingmar Guandique was based on irrelevant emotionalism and on the claims of a jailhouse snitch-- who claimed that Guandique made the "confession" in 2006, five years after the disappearance of Chandra Levy, but who did not come forward until after he saw on CNN that his former cellmate had been charged, in 2009! The conviction was gained despite the fact that there was no physical evidence tying Guandique to the crime scene-- while there was DNA from an unidentified male found on Levy's clothes!-- and despite the fact that there was no eyewitness testimony placing either Guandique or Levy in the park that day, let alone there together. It is the greatest single miscarriage of justice that I can recall in this country in many years.

    As for the claim here that Amy Keller of "Roll Call" was the first to raise Guandique as a potential suspect, due to her own gumshoeing, that is patent nonsense: Guandique had been accused in the late summer of 2001 of killing Chandra Levy, on behalf of Rep. Gary Condit, as detailed above, and that ludicrous story of his alleged "confession" in the D.C. lock-up was duly reported at that time.