WASHINGTON – Police on Tuesday obtained an arrest warrant for El Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar A. Guandique for the 2001 killing of Chandra Levy, opening a dramatic new chapter in one of the nation’s most enduring murder mysteries.
Resurrecting a cold but still infamous case, federal prosecutors say a combination of circumstantial evidence and witness testimony now enables them to charge the 27-year-old Guandique. He has been periodically eyed as a potential suspect since 2002.
“We believe Ms. Levy was a random victim of Guandique, who attacked and killed her as she walked through Rock Creek Park,” U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor said at a packed news conference.
Guandique told another inmate that he had been smoking marijuana laced with cocaine in Rock Creek Park when he saw Levy jog past on May 1, 2001, according to a police affidavit. Guandique told the inmate he and two other men then followed Levy, grabbed her and took her into some bushes, according to the affidavit.
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“Guandique said that they ‘had her down’ and (she) started screaming and fighting back,” the inmate stated, according to a police affidavit. “It was then, according to Guandique, that he grabbed her by the neck and choked her to death.”
If convicted of first degree murder by a Washington, D.C. jury, Gaundique faces a sentence of between 30 and 60 years.
Guandique will be taken from the high-security U.S. Penitentiary in Victorville and flown to Washington, D.C. within the next six to eight weeks, Taylor said. Guandique is currently serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two women in Washington’s Rock Creek Park, the same area where Levy’s skeletal remains were found in May 2002.
Nearly seven years after that gruesome discovery, that crowed news conference showed how the Levy case retains its grip on the public imagination. At least eight camera crews lit up the room, uniformed officers lined the walls and Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty joined police and prosecutors in making the announcement.
Fenty declared the arrest warrant showed that D.C. police will solve cases no matter how long it takes. He, along with other top city officials, telephoned Levy’s parents in Modesto to advise them of the latest developments.
“There’s very little we can offer the Levys, except for justice,” Police Chief Cathy Lanier said “and we hope this offering brings them peace.”
Earlier Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Ronald Wertheim authorized the arrest warrant, after reviewing a seven-page affidavit signed by D.C. Police Detective Todd Williams. Williams was one of three detectives assigned to the Levy murder and several other cold cases back in October 2007.
“Sometimes, on open homicide cases that are very complicated, it’s very important to have a fresh set of eyes and the passage of time,” Lanier said.
The detectives’ affidavit cites the testimony of 12, unnamed witnesses, including one woman who said she was stalked by Guandique in Rock Creek Park on or about May 1, 2001. The affidavit also quotes an unnamed inmate who said Guandique confessed the crime to him. This inmate witness, interviewed by detectives last month, further said Guandique became “very anxious” after hearing news reports that he was a suspect.
“(The witness) said something to the effect of ‘(expletive) it, they got me now. What am I going to do?’” the affidavit states.
None of Washington D.C.’s other 231 homicide victims from 2001 ever attracted nearly the same attention shown Levy on Monday. Levy’s case, though, became notorious almost immediately after she was last seen in public on April 30, 2001.
Within days of her disappearance, rumors and reports began circulating about the former Modesto, Calif. resident having had a relationship with then-Rep. Gary Condit of Ceres. Condit eventually told investigators he was sexually involved with the younger woman, though he has repeatedly denied their relationship was “romantic.”
Levy had just turned 24 when she disappeared. A University of Southern California graduate student, she had finished an internship with the federal Bureau of Prisons and was reportedly planning to move back to California.
Police subsequently found her drivers’ license, credit cards and packed luggage inside her apartment near D.C.’s fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood. Other potential investigative leads, though, proved unavailing. Police, for instance, did not view the apartment complex’s surveillance video tape until after the relevant time period had been erased.
The mystery over Levy’s fate captivated tabloid, cable television and some mainstream media attention throughout the summer of 2001. Clues and conspiracy clogged police hotlines. National Enquirer reporters published a book, entitled “Sex, Power and Murder.” Psychics weighed in.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 abruptly changed the subject, at least until Levy’s remains were found on a wooded Rock Creek Park hillside on May 22, 2002.
“This has been a long time coming,” Lanier said, “and we hope for the Levy family, that it brings some sense of peace.”