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Chandra Levy murder trial may not answer many questions

WASHINGTON — The disappearance of former federal intern Chandra Levy transfixed the nation, tangled a California congressman in scandal and left the nation's capital shocked and scared. Nine years later, a suspect will finally go on trial.

Jury selection is schedule to begin today in the case of Ingmar Guandique, 29, who prosecutors say killed Levy on May 1, 2001, after attempting to sexually assault her while she was jogging on a remote trail in Washington's Rock Creek Park. But the trial of the Salvadoran immigrant is unlikely to reveal answers to many details surrounding Levy's death, and legal experts say there could be further anguish for Levy's parents because a conviction is no sure thing.

There are no direct witnesses to the assault on Levy nor DNA evidence connecting Guandique to her murder. Court filings suggest that prosecutors are relying on statements the defendant made about Levy to a fellow inmate as well as his admitted assaults on two other women in Rock Creek Park.

"It's going to be an interesting trial," said Stephen Saltzburg, George Washington University law professor and former deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division at the Department of Justice. "The prosecution will have the burden of proving guilt without physical evidence — which is a challenge — and the defense will have an opportunity to go after some of the defects in the investigation."

Guandique was charged with Levy's murder last year while serving a 10-year sentence for assaulting the two women at knifepoint in Rock Creek Park around the time of Levy's disappearance.

Saltzburg said the timing and location of those assaults and a photo of Levy found in the defendant's cell could bolster the prosecution's case.

Levy, 24, had recently finished her graduate studies and an internship with the Bureau of Prisons. She had planned to return to her hometown of Modesto, Calif., where her parents, Robert and Susan Levy, still live.

Thirteen months after Levy disappeared, her remains were discovered on a secluded slope in Rock Creek Park. The prosecution acknowledges that police botched the search, losing nearly all forensic evidence because of a miscommunication over where to look. An autopsy revealed a cracked skull, but medical examiners were not able to determine what killed Levy. Her death was declared a homicide based on the circumstances of her disappearance.

Levy's disappearance gained national attention after reports surfaced that she had been in an affair with her congressman, Gary Condit, a Democrat from Ceres, Calif., Police and the FBI interviewed Condit several times but never declared him a suspect. The once-popular congressman lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Condit ran two Baskin-Robbins franchises in Arizona until losing a dispute with the company in November 2008.

In 2005, Condit received an undisclosed amount and an apology from Vanity Fair magazine after settling a lawsuit for defamation. In 2007, a judge dismissed Condit's defamation lawsuit against the Sonoran News, a Phoenix-area newspaper.

Chandra Levy murder trial may not answer many questions 10/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 18, 2010 12:18am]

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