In the weeks and months before the Sept. 11 attacks, the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy was the biggest story in the U.S. Speculation swirled about her relationship with a California congressman, Gary Condit.
Nearly 25 million people tuned in for Condit’s awkward prime-time interview with Connie Chung on Aug. 23, 2001.
Then came the Sept. 11 attacks, and Condit and Levy were largely forgotten. She popped back into the news in 2002, when her remains were found in Washington’s sprawling Rock Creek Park. And again in 2010, when another man, an immigrant from El Salvador living in the U.S. illegally named Ingmar Guandique, was convicted of Levy’s slaying and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Now, more than 15 years after her disappearance in May 2001, Levy is back in the news, and her death is again a mystery.
Prosecutors announced Thursday that they were dropping all charges against Guandique, whose request for a new trial was granted last year after doubts were raised about a key witness at his 2010 trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia issued a statement saying the murder case against Guandique could no longer be proved beyond a reasonable doubt “based on recent unforeseen developments that were investigated over the past week.”
The statement does not elaborate, and Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, declined to comment.
“After investigating this information and reviewing all of the evidence in this case, the government now believes it is in the interests of justice for the court to dismiss the case,” prosecutors wrote in a one-page motion.
Within hours of prosecutors’ motion, a judge officially dismissed the case.
Guandique’s lawyers in the public defender’s office issued a statement Thursday saying their client has been vindicated.
“Finally, the government has had to concede the flaws in its ill-gotten conviction,” the lawyers said, noting that Guandique had passed an FBI-administered lie detector test regarding his involvement. They accused prosecutors of hiding information that undermined their star witness at Guandique’s 2010 trial.
In California, Levy’s mother, Susan Levy, reacted to the news that the charges had been dropped, telling NBC affiliate KCRA-TV in Sacramento, “I am totally in a state of shock. I am sick to my stomach and am having trauma and grief all over again. We all want our truth. I want to make sure we find out the truth. My husband and I hope that justice is found for our family.”
She added, “But even if I get justice, (it) doesn’t bring calm back to a family that’s been fractured by a horrendous crime like this.”
The disappearance of the 24-year-old Levy created a national sensation after the Modesto, California, native who was in Washington as an intern for the Bureau of Prisons was romantically linked with Condit. The California Democrat was at one point a prime suspect in the investigation, police acknowledged.
Eventually, police cleared Condit and in 2009 charged Guandique with Levy’s murder. Guandique had already been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for attacks on female joggers in Rock Creek Park, and prosecutors argued Levy’s death fit the pattern of those attacks. He was found guilty in 2010 and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
But Guandique was granted a new trial last year after doubts were raised about jailhouse informant Armando Morales, the key witness at Guandique’s trial. Morales testified that Guandique confessed to the killing.
Defence lawyers have argued that Morales lied during the trial and that prosecutors knew or should have known the testimony was problematic.
“It is now clear that the jailhouse informant, who was central to the government’s case, was a perjurer who too easily manipulated the prosecutors,” Guandique’s lawyers said in their statement Thursday.
In recent months, Guandique’s attorneys have raised questions about Condit. At a January hearing, one of Guandique’s attorneys told a judge Condit misled the jury with his testimony at the 2010 trial, but he did not elaborate.
In May, defence lawyers sought to take depositions from several women who said they had sexual relationships with Condit. Defence lawyers said two of the women said they feared Condit. And the defence lawyers said Condit had “obvious motive to kill Ms. Levy in order to keep the relationship secret.”
Condit testified at trial that he didn’t kill Levy but evaded questions about an intimate relationship saying, “We’re all entitled to some level of privacy.”
Lawyers who represented Condit did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. Efforts to reach Levy’s parents were not immediately successful Thursday.
In a statement obtained by The Washington Post, Condit’s attorney said the former congressman was disappointed the case had been dropped.
The statement released Thursday read, “The failure of authorities to bring formal closure to this tragedy after 15 years is very disappointing but in no way alters the fact that Mr. Condit was long ago completely exonerated by authorities in connection with Ms. Levy’s death.”
Prosecutors say that as a result of their action Guandique, who is from El Salvador, will be released to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and faces deportation.