WASHINGTON – Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a man accused of killing federal intern Chandra Levy nearly a decade ago, a case that derailed a California congressman's career and generated headlines around the world.
Ingmar Guandique, 29, is charged with murder, kidnapping, attempted sexual assault and other counts. Authorities say he attacked Levy while she was jogging alone in Rock Creek Park in May 2001.
Levy's disappearance — her body was not discovered until more than a year after she went missing — caused a national sensation when she was romantically linked to then-Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif. Authorities once considered Condit a prime suspect but no longer believe he had anything to do with her death.
Levy, 24, had just completed an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons when she disappeared. When Guandique was charged last year with killing her, the illegal immigrant from El Salvador had been serving a 10-year sentence for separate assaults in Rock Creek Park.
In court Monday, jurors filled out an 11-page questionnaire that sought to determine their exposure to pretrial publicity and whether they can sit as jurors on a case that could stretch six weeks. Their answers to the questions about their exposure to the case were not disclosed.
Defense attorneys objected that the first half of the 114-member jury pool were subjected to individual security screenings with handheld metal detectors before they entered the courtroom, arguing that the enhanced security measures implied to jurors that Guandique is a threat. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher agreed to stop subjecting the jurors to the enhanced screening, but rejected a request from the defense to have all 56 of those jurors dismissed from the pool.
After one day of jury selection, 33 members of 114-person pool were struck, almost all because they had travel or some other personal or professional hardship. Concerns over exposure to pretrial publicity will be dealt with on Wednesday.
The federal public defenders who represent Guandique hired a jury consultant to help them decide which jurors they should seek to keep on the case and which they should seek to strike.
Guandique appeared in court Monday before a pool of potential jurors in a beige blazer and a cream-colored turtleneck that covered a series of gang tattoos. He introduced himself to jurors in Spanish, using the phrase "Buenos dias."
Before the trial formally began on Monday, defense attorney Santha Sonenberg complained to the judge that the government had been negligent in turning over a potentially important piece of evidence.
Sonenberg said the defense learned only on Sunday that authorities had tried to match fingerprints from a crime scene not only to Guandique but also to another man. Sonenberg said the defense had heard of the other man and had no information on whether police may have at one time considered him a suspect.
Prosecutors responded that they thought they had disclosed the man's name to the defense.
It is unclear what role Condit will play in the trial. A spokesman for Condit says the former congressman expects to be called as a witness, though he has not been subpoenaed.
Jury selection is expected to take most of the week, and opening statements might not begin until next Monday.