WASHINGTON – After nearly eight years of waiting, the parents of slain intern Chandra Levy got what they were looking for when an arrest warrant was issued for the man investigators believe was responsible for her death.
Authorities said Tuesday that Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique, 27, would be charged with first-degree murder in the attack and slaying of Levy in a Washington park.
Key to breaking the case appeared to be interviews — detailed in an affidavit supporting the arrest warrant — with at least two witnesses who claimed Guandique told them he killed Levy.
When detectives did zero in on Guandique, they visited him in prison in September 2008 and found a man with gang-related tattoos — several of them the marks of notorious Latino gang MS-13 — as well as a photo of Levy that appeared to have been ripped from a magazine in his cell.
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One witness interviewed last month told police that Guandique said over time that he and two male teenagers were sitting on a bench in a park smoking marijuana and cocaine when he saw Levy jogging. The witness said Guandique thought Levy "looked good" and told the two teenagers that he was going to "get her."
Guandique said the three followed her along a path and at one point grabbed her and took her into the bushes, the witness said. When she started screaming, he grabbed her by the neck and choked her to death, so that people nearby would not hear the struggle.
Where she was attacked, police said, clothing was strewn from the path, down a steep hill toward the bottom of a ravine. Her shoes were unlaced. Her clothing was turned inside out. Her tights were knotted into restraints.
During the attack, Levy scratched him, the affidavit says. To hide that evidence, the witness said Guandique instructed his family to tell police the scratches came from a fight with his girlfriend if he was ever questioned.
He is expected to be brought back to Washington from the federal prison in Adelanto, Calif., where he is serving time for attacking the other two women, sometime in the next two months.
Levy's parents said in a statement given to The Associated Press that the development meant their daughter, who was 24 when she vanished, "can finally truly rest in peace."
"Thankfully the individual responsible for this most heinous and terrible crime will finally be held accountable for his actions and hopefully unable to hurt anyone else ever again," Bob and Susan Levy said.
The announcement was a long-awaited break in a case that has long stumped the city's police department and led to harsh criticism that the initial investigation was bungled because police missed leads and even searched the wrong part of the park for Levy's body.
When the remains were found, they were so decayed police couldn't recover much evidence.
And while the Levys welcomed Tuesday's announcement, the recent developments in the case have also brought back the pain of losing their daughter, said Rick Muniz, a friend of the Levys who belongs to a nonprofit advocacy group Susan Levy founded to help family members of missing violent crime victims.
"Reexhuming all of this again has a big effect on Bob and Sue," he said. "We're reminding them to think about their memories of Chandra and the beautiful life she had before all of this was drummed up."
Levy's parents said on Feb. 20 that District of Columbia Police Chief Cathy Lanier had told them an arrest was coming within days. Lanier said she also spoke to the family Tuesday and said she hoped the arrest would offer some sense of peace.
"It dawned on me that there's very little I can do, or anyone else can do, for the Levys other than to offer them justice," Lanier said.
Levy had just completed an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons when she disappeared after leaving her apartment. The Modesto, Calif., woman was wearing jogging clothes when she went missing. A man walking his dog found her skull and bones in the park a year later.
Her disappearance and the intense attention surrounding it destroyed the political career of former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California.
Authorities questioned Condit, Levy's congressman, in the disappearance, but he was never a suspect in her death. Condit, a popular Democrat for a dozen years in his district, was romantically linked to Levy, and the negative publicity from the case was cited as the main reason for his overwhelming primary loss in 2002.
Authorities also interviewed the person who found Levy's remains and other victims attacked in the park. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said that there was no physical evidence linking Guandique to the crime, but that the "cumulative weight" of circumstantial evidence gathered over the years led investigators to the conclusion that Guandique was the killer.
Authorities said no other arrests were imminent but that the investigation was ongoing.
One person whose identity was not disclosed in the affidavit told authorities that in numerous letters Guandique wrote, he talked about spending time in the park and said he had killed a young woman. Later, in a telephone conversation the witness recorded, Guandique said he was talking about "the girl who's dead."
In another conversation, Guandique boasted that he was a member of the Salvadoran gang MS-13 and said that he was known as "Chuckie" because he had a reputation for "killing and chopping up people," another witness told police. Guandique hasn't been charged in any other slayings.
Investigators spoke with Guandique in 2001 and 2002, and at one point gave him a polygraph test that was inconclusive. During that time, they also questioned his family and friends, but found no leads relating to Levy. In a statement, his attorneys called the investigation flawed and said police had made numerous mistakes.
"The public should not draw any conclusions based on speculation by the media and incomplete information," said Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo, the public defenders representing Guandique.