WASHINGTON — Police obtained an arrest warrant Tuesday for El Salvador immigrant Ingmar A. Guandique for the 2001 killing of Chandra Levy, opening another dramatic chapter in one of the nation's most enduring murder mysteries.
Resurrecting a cold but still infamous case, federal prosecutors say that a combination of circumstantial evidence and witness testimony now enables them to charge the 27-year-old Guandique. He's been eyed periodically as a possible suspect since 2002.
"We believe Ms. Levy was a random victim of Guandique, who attacked and killed her as she walked through Rock Creek Park," U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor said at a packed news conference.
Guandique told another inmate that he'd been smoking marijuana laced with cocaine in Washington's Rock Creek Park when he saw Levy jog past on May 1, 2001, according to a police affidavit. Guandique told the inmate that he and two other men followed Levy, grabbed her and took her into some bushes, according to the affidavit.
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"Guandique said that they 'had her down' and (she) started screaming and fighting back," the inmate said, according to the affidavit. "It was then, according to Guandique, that he grabbed her by the neck and choked her to death."
Police didn't identify or charge any other men Tuesday with murdering Levy . Guandique's own accounts of the killing vary, according to witnesses cited in the affidavit. By one witness's account in the affidavit, Guandique said he'd raped Levy.
If a Washington jury convicts Guandique of first-degree murder, he faces a sentence of 30 to 60 years. The District of Columbia doesn't impose the death penalty.
Guandique will be taken from the high-security U.S. penitentiary in Victorville, Calif., and flown to Washington within the next six to eight weeks, Taylor said. Guandique is serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two other women in Rock Creek Park, where Levy's skeletal remains were found in May 2002.
Nearly seven years after that gruesome discovery, Tuesday's crowded news conference showed how the Levy case retains its grip on the public imagination. At least eight camera crews lit up the room, uniformed officers stood against the back walls and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty joined police and prosecutors in making the announcement.
Fenty said the arrest warrant showed that District of Columbia police would solve cases no matter how long it took. He, along with other top city officials, telephoned Levy's parents in Modesto, Calif., to advise them of the latest developments.
"There's very little we can offer the Levys, except for justice," Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, "and we hope this offering brings them peace."
Earlier Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Ronald Wertheim authorized the arrest warrant, after reviewing a seven-page affidavit signed by Washington police Detective Todd Williams. Williams was one of three detectives whom police Capt. Michael Farish assigned to the Levy killing and several other cold cases back in October 2007.
"Sometimes, on open homicide cases that are very complicated, it's very important to have a fresh set of eyes and the passage of time," Lanier said.
The detectives' affidavit cites the testimony of 12 unnamed witnesses, including one woman who said that Guandique stalked her in Rock Creek Park on or about May 1, 2001. The affidavit also quotes an unnamed inmate who said that Guandique had confessed committing the crime to him. The inmate, whom detectives interviewed last month, further said that Guandique became "very anxious" after hearing news reports that he was a suspect.
"(The witness) said Guandique said something to the effect of '(expletive) it, they got me now. What am I going to do?' " the affidavit says.
Guandique's former girlfriend told investigators that "Guandique hit her, grabbed her by the throat and bit her on the breast" during their relationship. Yet another witness told investigators that Guandique said in letters that "he was responsible for the murder of a young woman."
Last September, investigators obtained a warrant to search Guandique's cell in Victorville. Detectives reported finding a magazine photograph of Levy; Guandique himself was reported to have "many gang-related tattoos," including a picture of the devil on the top of his head.
None of Washington's other 231 homicide victims from 2001 ever attracted nearly the same attention that Levy drew Tuesday. Levy's case, though, became notorious almost immediately after she was last seen in public on April 30, 2001.
Within days of her disappearance, rumors and reports began circulating that the former intern had had a relationship with then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. Condit eventually told investigators that he was sexually involved with Levy, though he's repeatedly denied that their relationship was "romantic."
Levy had just turned 24 when she disappeared. A University of Southern California graduate student, she'd finished an internship with the federal Bureau of Prisons and reportedly was planning to move back to California.
Police subsequently found her driver's license, credit cards and packed luggage in her apartment near Washington's fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood. Other potential investigative leads, though, proved unavailing. Police, for instance, didn't view the apartment complex's surveillance videotape until after the relevant time period had been erased.
The mystery over Levy's fate captivated tabloid, cable television and mainstream media attention throughout the summer of 2001. Clues and conspiracies clogged police hot lines. National Enquirer reporters published a book titled "Sex, Power & Murder." Psychics weighed in.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, abruptly changed the subject, at least until Levy's remains were found on a wooded Rock Creek Park hillside on May 22, 2002.
"This has been a long time coming," Lanier said, "and we hope for the Levy family that it brings some sense of peace."
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