WASHINGTON — Another kink and some new secrets have entered the Chandra Levy murder mystery more than 11 years after the former Modesto resident disappeared.
Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled in a secret session for nearly two hours after the discovery of information that could undermine a prosecution witness. At present, however, it's impossible to know whether this latest twist could seriously call into question the outcome of a trial that ended with a conviction in November 2010.
After 10 days of trial testimony, D.C. jurors concluded that illegal Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique killed Levy in Washington's Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001.
The nature of the so-called impeachment information and the identity of the witness potentially implicated have been locked up by the trial judge, who conducted a similar hearing last month at the bench so it could not be overheard.
"I have concluded that both the last court proceeding and today's proceeding will remain under seal," D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher stated after the closed-door hearing Friday afternoon, though he added that "they may be unsealed at some point in the future."
Fisher asked a McClatchy reporter to leave the courtroom prior to the start of the hearing Friday, over the reporter's stated objections. Fisher also ejected from the hearing Pauline Mandel, an attorney for the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center who has been representing Chandra Levy's mother, Susan.
Fisher did not elaborate Friday on his reasons for keeping the hearing closed, but his decision followed a request from the U.S. attorney's office. Prosecutors, in brief public remarks last month, asserted that public disclosure of the witness information and the reasons for keeping it secret posed a potential safety risk.
"I fear that as we continue to discuss these matters, things will bleed out," Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret J. Chriss warned the judge last month.
Defense attorneys for Guandique, who are preparing a long-delayed appeal of his conviction, sought unsuccessfully to keep the hearings open.
"We think all, or perhaps most, of these proceedings can take place in public," defense attorney Jonathan Anderson told Fisher on Friday.
Anderson added that prosecutors had presented only "vague" information concerning the purported safety risk posed by a public hearing.
Taken together, the bench session last month and the closed-door session Friday lasted roughly four hours. They have not been the first time secrecy has arisen, and been questioned, in the long-running Levy case.
After Fisher sought to keep juror questionnaires secret, the D.C. Court of Appeals sided with The Washington Post in a decision overturning Fisher's secrecy order.
"Not only does public access enhance just results, it also promotes the appearance of fairness so essential to public confidence in the system," the appellate court stated in its 2012 decision overturning Fisher.
At the time of her disappearance in 2001, the 24-year-old Levy had finished a University of Southern California graduate program and a federal Bureau of Prisons internship. She was preparing to return to her family's home in Modesto, where her parents still live.