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Judge Promises More Openness in Chandra Levy Case

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Chandra Levy (credit: Getty Images)

Chandra Levy (credit: Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — A judge promised more openness Tuesday after months of confidential post-trial proceedings in the case of murdered Washington intern Chandra Levy, disclosing for the first time why a key prosecution witness could be discredited.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys were in court again Tuesday for a hearing in the case of Ingmar Guandique, who was convicted of Levy’s death and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Defense attorneys have said they intend to request a new trial for Guandique based on the information about the prosecution witness.

Before Tuesday’s proceeding, lawyers had met several times beginning in December, and the public and press were barred from hearing all or part of those proceedings. The judge in the case, Gerald Fisher, had said those hearings were closed because of unspecified safety concerns. News organizations including The Associated Press had objected to the secrecy.

On Tuesday, the judge said most of the safety concerns have been dealt with, and the majority of Tuesday’s hearing was public, though attorneys did confer with the judge privately at the bench on several occasions.

The judge did not explain how the safety concerns had been dealt with or say what they were, though he was asked to by a lawyer for the media. The judge said he expected future hearings would be largely public, though he said a limited amount of information is still not ready to be disclosed.

The judge had previously said that the subject of the hearings was information brought to him after trial about a key prosecution witness, Armando Morales, a former cellmate of Guandique’s. Morales testified during Guandique’s 2010 trial that Guandique confessed to killing Levy while the two were cellmates at a Kentucky prison.

A Salvadoran immigrant, Guandique was charged with Levy’s killing in 2009, eight years after the 24-year-old disappeared after leaving her apartment in jogging clothes. Her disappearance rocked Washington and became international news after she was romantically linked with then-California Rep. Gary Condit, a Democrat. He was once the main suspect in her disappearance, but police no longer believe he was involved. Levy’s body was found in Washington’s Rock Creek Park in 2002, and Guandique, who had previously been convicted of attacking women in the park, was ultimately found guilty of her murder.

On Tuesday, the judge and lawyers said that while Morales had testified at trial that he had not previously cooperated as a government informant, that was apparently untrue.

Jonathan Anderson, one of Guandique’s lawyers, said after Tuesday’s hearing that Morales had “previously made numerous attempts” to testify against other individuals in exchange for benefits. He said the government either knew or should have known that information and turned it over to defense lawyers.

“The government sold the story to the jury by having him testify that he wasn’t seeking any benefit in exchange for his testimony and that he had never offered information against anybody else before,” Anderson said.

A lawyer for the government, David Gorman, noted in court that it was the government that brought the information about Morales to the attention of the judge in November. Gorman said the case against Guandique was strong and Morales was only one witness.

Prosecutors released a statement after the hearing that said Morales “never asked for or received any benefit for his testimony in this case” and said it was “premature to cast doubt” on his testimony.

Defense attorneys have said they intend to ask for a new trial based on the information about Morales. Anderson said Tuesday that motion would have to be made before the end of the year.

At Tuesday’s hearing, lawyers also sparred over a letter in which another inmate brought Morales to prosecutors’ attention. Defense attorneys said that two of the pages were turned over but not the first page, which had information about the fact Morales had previously talked with law enforcement. Prosecutors maintain all three pages were turned over.

Also Tuesday, the judge asked the government to review transcripts of the previous hearings to determine whether they can be made public either completely or with redactions. The judge said he expected all or most of the transcripts would be made public within 60 days.

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(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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