State

Suspect in Chandra Levy case pleads not guilty

WASHINGTON -- Ingmar Guandique pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he tried to sexually assault and killed former intern Chandra Levy.

In a brief but eventful court appearance, the manacled Guandique spoke but one audible word -- "Si" -- as prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled over dates and procedures.

"I understand there will be a lot of machinations in this case," said D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin, before cautioning Guandique's attorney Santha Sonenberg to "not make a speech."

Over the objections of Sonenberg, who wanted more time, Alprin set a Jan. 27, 2010, trial date. Alprin estimated Guandique's trial will take about two weeks, though further surprises seem all but certain.

In the latest unusual twist for a case that's already had many, Alprin said Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield of the Superior Court had received a letter from a woman "who says she has information on the case." Alprin delivered copies of the letter to attorneys but did not make it public.

Raised in Modesto, where her parents still live, the 24-year-old Levy was last seen alive April 30, 2001. At the time, she was finishing a University of Southern California graduate program that included a federal Bureau of Prisons internship. Her disappearance eventually brought to light the fact that she had been involved with then-Congressman Gary Condit of Ceres, whose political career subsequently collapsed.

Levy's skeletal remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in May 2002. The murder case went cold before investigators this year charged Guandique with the crime. Relying on circumstantial evidence that includes the testimony of several jailhouse informants, prosecutors obtained a six-count indictment against the illegal Salvadoran immigrant.

No new evidence presented

The charges include murder, attempted sexual assault and kidnapping. No additional evidence was presented during the 15-minute arraignment Wednesday morning.

"An indictment is the result of a one-sided process that happens behind closed doors, without any defense attorneys present," Sonenberg and fellow federal public defender Maria Hawilo declared following the hearing. "Eventually, when 12 fair-minded jurors hear the prosecution's witnesses challenged, they will find (the case) to be false and deficient."

On Guandique's behalf, Sonenberg and Hawilo are casting a wide net that includes subpoenaing copies of past television news reports about Levy's murder. The attorneys also filed on April 23 formal requests for evidence held by prosecutors.

"To date, we have received nothing," Sonenberg said Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner responded that "there is a substantial amount of discovery that will take place" before the trial. Kirschner urged the judge to set a trial date early in 2010 "so that we can start getting ready for it."

Although Sonenberg resisted, noting that "the government has had this case since 2001," a stern-sounding Alprin went ahead with setting a trial date eight months hence.

Bee Washington Bureau reporter Michael Doyle can be reached at mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0006.

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