Court ruling in murder of intern Chandra Levy reignites speculation on sensational Washington story

It will again fuel the speculation. The wonder. The whispers.

The conjecture may not be fair. But it will inevitably happen.

A decision by Washington D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Morin to “dismiss without prejudice” the murder conviction of Ingmar Guandique is likely to foster enduring chatter theory, which hasn’t dissipated in the nation’s capital in 15 years.

In 2010, the feds convicted Guandique -- an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador -- in the murder of then 24-year-old Washington intern Chandra Levy nine years earlier. Now prosecutors appealed to the court to drop the conviction as the court prepared for a retrial this fall because their case against Guandique crumbled.

The U.S. Attorney told the court that his office “could no longer prove the murder case against Mr. Guandique beyond a reasonable doubt.” Prosecutors based their conviction on the testimony of what later proved to be an unreliable informant who coughed up information from the slammer.

Prosecutors halted their efforts against Guandique following the revelation of an illegally-taped conversation between gang leader Armando Morales and bit-part actress Babs Proller.

Morales’s information was key in the conviction of Guandique. Morales and Proller got to know each other when they were neighbors. Proller’s recording purportedly reveals he lied on the witness stand during Guandique’s 2010 trial, which earned him a 60-year sentence for murdering Levy.

" 'Homeboy, I killed that bitch, but I didn’t rape her,’ ” Morales testified in court about what Guandique told him about Levy. Morales asked for installation in the government’s witness protection program for his testimony.

“It is now clear that the jailhouse informant, who was central to the government case, was a perjurer who too easily manipulated the prosecutors,” said Guandique’s attorneys.

And so, the question today is the same as it was 15 years ago: Who killed Chandra Levy?

The disappearance and murder of Levy has and always will be a Capitol Hill story. That’s because at the time of Levy’s death, she was having an affair with then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif.

Carnival atmospheres frequently descend on Capitol Hill: Donald Trump meeting with House and Senate Republicans as he did a few weeks ago. A lineup of baseball stars like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa appearing at a hearing on doping. Bono and Alicia Keys cruising through the Capitol’s marble corridors in an effort to secure funding for AIDS research.

But no one has seen a journalism jamboree like the one that unfolded around Condit in the spring and summer of 2001. The Levy case engrossed the entire press corps. News crews from around the world encamped on the Capitol.

Reporters staked out Condit’s office. They stalked him near the House gym in the Rayburn House Office Building. They pursued him in and out at the House Agriculture Committee. They waited at all hours for Condit at his home in Washington’s Adams-Morgan neighborhood. They even hung out in front of the home of his chief of staff in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va.

There were no suspects in the Levy case. But Condit was eerily mute. His quiet fomented disquiet. What did he know? What did he do? Did he do anything?

Prosecutors called Condit to testify in the 2010 Guandique case. When Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines presented Condit in court, she noted that the former congressman “was having an affair with Chandra Levy.” She later said those rendezvous had “nothing to do with the murder of Chandra Levy.”

But earlier this year, Guandique’s defense team planned to introduce evidence at a retrial that could implicate Condit.

“Condit was fully aware of the cost he could pay if his affair with Ms. Levy became public,” said the defense in court filings. “He therefore had an obvious motive to kill Ms. Levy in order to keep the relationship secret, and an equally powerful motive to cover up the circumstances of her death if she died while she was with him -- either through intentional conduct or otherwise.”

Back in 2001, all eyes -- including those of media and law enforcement -- focused on Condit.

The case baffled investigators. There was no murder weapon. They found no body (until 2002). No obvious motive. There was cryptic information from Levy’s computer internet searches about the Pierce-Klingle Mansion in the middle of Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

In May, 2002, a man searching for turtles (can this get any weirder?) stumbled upon Levy’s skeletal remains.

Notably on Levy’s computer, there was also a search for Baskin-Robbins. After leaving Congress, Condit operated two Baskin-Robbins franchises near Phoenix.

Baskin-Robbins later sued Condit and his family for failing to pay franchise and advertising fees to the company.

Police eventually ruled Condit out as a suspect. He conceded in an interview he had a tryst with a woman who was nearly three decades his junior. But authorities cleared Condit, despite finding him elusive. Flight attendant Anne Marie Smith also came forward, saying she too had an affair with Condit.

The congressman then refused to submit to a police polygraph.

Is there any reason this story wouldn’t consume media, in Washington or elsewhere?

Condit tried to run for re-election. He lost his primary to a former staffer, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif. Condit’s son Chad ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2012.

Guandique turned to Levy’s parents when he appeared in court six years ago.

“I’m very sorry for what happened to your daughter,” he said. “But I had nothing to do with it. I am innocent.”

And still, no one knows who did it.

But one thing is clear: the recording Babs Proller made of Armando Morales is the lynchpin to clearing Guandique. That’s the only reason people in Washington are chattering about this case again.

In a final, warped twist, Babs Proller appeared briefly in an episode of “House of Cards.” In a non-speaking role, Proller appears sitting on the dais in the House chamber when President Frank Underwood addresses Congress for his State of the Union message. Proller’s position in the chamber is usually reserved for the clerk of the House during such elite meetings.

The entire Chandra Levy case revolves around quintessential Washington intrigue, even 15 years down the road. A congressman’s liaisons with an intern. Power. An unsolved murder. A media circus. All inside the Beltway touchstones worthy of the program, “House of Cards.”

It appears the government formed its case against Guandique on a house of cards. And perhaps it’s only appropriate that an actress who appeared on “House of Cards” helped immolate the prosecution and the conviction of Guandique.

Who killed Chandra Levy?

Well, it’s like something right out of “House of Cards.”