WASHINGTON (AP) – Lawyers for a man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy are making their pitch to a judge that he deserves a new trial because of what they call problems with a key witness.
Lawyers for Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran immigrant, and the government were scheduled Wednesday to begin three days of hearings. Guandique's lawyers say he was convicted on the basis of false or misleading testimony given by a one-time cellmate and prosecutors knew or should have known the testimony was false and investigated the man further.
Prosecutors are expected to argue Guandique received a fair trial and they couldn't be expected to know about information that came to light after the trial was over.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher is expected to hear from a number of law enforcement witnesses this week. A second round of hearings with additional witnesses is scheduled for February. It will then be up to the judge whether to grant a new trial.
Levy's 2001 disappearance created a national sensation after the 24-year-old Modesto, California, native was romantically linked with then-Rep. Gary Condit, a California Democrat who was ultimately ruled out as a suspect.
Levy's remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in 2002 and prosecutors argued her death fit a pattern of attacks Guandique committed on female joggers. A jury convicted Guandique after a five-week trial and he is serving a 60-year sentence for her death. He maintains he is innocent.
The man at the center of Guandique's new trial request, former cellmate Armando Morales, is not expected to testify during this month's hearings. Morales was a star witness at Guandique's 2010 trial, testifying Guandique confided in him that he was responsible for Levy's death. Because there was no physical evidence linking Guandique to Levy's death, Morales provided some of the trial's most powerful testimony.
In a court document filed earlier this year in support of a new trial, Guandique's attorneys suggested Morales lied several times at trial, including testifying he had not asked for anything in exchange for his testimony when, in fact, they say he asked to be put in a witness protection program. They also argued Morales, a former California gang member, testified at trial that he didn't know how to come forward with information to law enforcement. However, they say Morales cooperated with authorities in the 1990s by providing information about his gang to a California sheriff's department, corrections officials and federal agents.
Additional information about Morales' contact with law enforcement was brought to prosecutors' attention about a year after he was sentenced, when the case was on appeal, leading to this month's hearings.