Criminal defense attorney Kush Arora practices primarily in the Maryland District and Circuit Courts, covering cases such as assault, DUI, burglary, and gun crimes.
In a strange twist in a cold case that has once again captured the attention of the nation, prosecutors last week dropped all charges against the man once convicted of murdering Chandra Levy. Levy was a young, beautiful intern who disappeared in DC in early 2001 while romantically involved with a prominent married Congressman.
The investigation into her murder fueled countless rumors, while unearthing frustratingly few answers about her death.
Ingmar Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, has been imprisoned for Levy’s murder for the past five years. Last year, based on questions relating to the evidence originally presented against him, his conviction was overturned. His retrial was set to begin in just a few short weeks.
Levy, a California native, was only 24 years old when she began her internship at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She disappeared during her morning jog in the District’s Rock Creek Park in early 2001. Her body was not recovered until late 2002.
The investigation into her disappearance revealed that Levy was having an affair with then-congressman Gary Condit, a revelation that prompted a media sensation. Although Condit was extensively questioned by law enforcement, he was eventually cleared as a suspect in Levy’s death.
Nonetheless, with no evidence of the circumstances surrounding her death recovered by police, coverage surrounding the investigation was based almost entirely on speculation. The media focused on Condit’s apparent motive to silence Levy, and many felt he used his political connections to escape police scrutiny.
In 2010, nearly a decade after Levy’s disappearance, Guandique, an illegal immigrant with a history of violence toward women, was tried and convicted of Levy’s murder. During the trial, Guandique’s cellmate, Armando Morales, testified that Guandique had confided to him that he had killed Levy. Morales’ convincing testimony was central to the prosecution’s case, and resulted in Guandique receiving a 60-year sentence.
However, the supposed jailhouse confession was never corroborated, and Guandique has always maintained his innocence. Guandique’s defense team later discovered that Morales obtained substantial concessions in exchange for his testimony, leading them to seek a retrial.
Earlier this month, as the prosecution team was preparing for Guandique’s retrial, illegally recorded conversations casting serious doubt on the credibility of their star witness emerged. Without Morales the prosecution cannot make its case. Although questions regarding Morales’ motives were part of the reason Guandique’s original conviction was overturned, the new evidence completely destroys his credibility.
Unaware that he was being recorded, Morales admitted on tape that he lied about Guandique’s confession in a conversation with Babs Proller, an actress he met earlier this year.
Proller claims she recorded the damning conversations in order to protect herself, as Morales had previously made threatening comments about her ex-husband. She met Morales shortly after his release from prison, and the two spoke at length over the phone – she says he told her his life story over the course of a few days.
After Morales told Proller during a recorded conversation that he had lied about Guandique’s confession as part of a deal with prosecutors to improve his sentence, Proller forwarded the recording to Levy’s parents. While the defense team initially declined to listen to the tapes, as they were recorded illegally and were thus inadmissible in court, the prosecution apparently felt otherwise.
Regardless of their admissibility, the recorded conversations completely undermine the only evidence linking Guandique to Levy’s murder – Morales’ testimony. In light of these ‘unforeseen developments,’ the U.S. Attorney’s Office has dropped the charges against Guandique entirely.
While Levy’s parents have understandably mixed feelings about the appearance of this latest surprise informant in their daughter’s case, Proller’s attorney says Proller sent the tapes because she felt it was the right thing to do. The unexpected revelation sets the murder investigation back to square one, with no new leads. The prosecution continues to investigate Levy’s murder, and has stated that Condit is not a suspect at this time.
However, substantial portions of the defense’s pretrial pleadings focused on Condit’s motive, opportunity, and sexual appetites, indicating there may be more new developments waiting to unfold. As the media gears up for another true crime sensation, Condit will likely once again find himself under intense scrutiny. The search for Levy’s killer continues.
Borderstan contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author — our contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP — and do not necessarily reflect the views of Borderstan.