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WASHINGTON – Lawyers for a man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy returned to court Wednesday as part of their pitch to a judge that he deserves a new trial because of what they say are problems with a key witness.
Lawyers for Ingmar Guandique and the government began three days of hearings Wednesday, and additional hearings are set for February. The judge overseeing the case will ultimately decide whether to grant him a new trial.
Guandique's lawyers are arguing that a jury convicted him in 2010 on the basis of false or misleading testimony given by a one-time cellmate. They say prosecutors knew or should have known the testimony was false and investigated the man further. Prosecutors oppose Guandique's motion for 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.
Her 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. He is now serving a 60-year sentence for her death, though he has maintained he is innocent.
The man at the center of Guandique's new trial request, his former cellmate Armando Morales, is not scheduled to testify during this week's hearings. Morales was a star witness at Guandique's 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, however, 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 leader, testified at trial that he didn't know how to come forward with information to law enforcement. But they say Morales was an experienced cooperator who had provided information about his gang to the California sheriff's department, corrections officials and federal agents in the 1990s.
On Wednesday, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher heard from two agents who interviewed Morales in the 1990s after he was arrested in California.
The agents, one from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and another from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Morales told them the history of his gang during an approximately 45-minute interview but declined to provide information about the crimes he was arrested for. The ATF agent said Morales said almost nothing law enforcement officers didn't already know.
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