Prosecutors: police erred in Chandra Levy case

Photos of Chandra Levy are on display as musicians, right, stand by at the memorial service for Levy in this Tuesday, May 28, 2002 file photo taken at the Modesto Centre Plaza in Modesto, Calif. Media reports Saturday Feb. 21, 2009 in Washington and California say that an arrest may be close in the slaying of the former federal intern whose disappearance ended Gary Condit's congressional career. The warrant is expected to be for a prison inmate convicted of attacking two female joggers in the same Washington park where Levy's remains were found. (AP Photo/Debbie Noda, Pool, File)

October 25, 2010 11:45:39 AM PDT
Prosecutors acknowledged Monday that police made a huge mistake nearly a decade ago when they focused on then-Congressman Gary Condit in the disappearance of Washington intern Chandra Levy, but they told a jury they now have the right man.

Ingmar Guandique, of El Salvador, is charged with the attempted sexual assault, kidnapping and killing of Levy in the city's Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Levy was romantically linked to Condit, and the California Democrat was once a suspect. Police no longer believe he had anything to do with Levy's death.

In her opening statement, prosecutor Amanda Haines told the jury that "law enforcement really let Miss Levy and her family down. They veered in the wrong direction because of the media and sensationalism."

She said Condit tried - and is still trying - to keep his affair with Levy a secret, and that led investigators to assume he was the prime suspect and "allowed Mr. Guandique to hide in plain sight."

A spokesman for Condit said the former congressman expects to testify.

Haines also acknowledged that prosecutors have no physical evidence or eyewitnesses, but said Guandique confessed the murder to prison cellmates, and that Levy's death fits the pattern of other attacks he made on young women in Rock Creek Park in the spring and summer of 2001. He was serving 10 years in prison for those attacks when he was charged in the Levy case.

Defense attorney Maria Hawilo scoffed at the prosecution's case and said Guandique has been made a scapegoat. She said DNA evidence found on Levy's jogging tights in Rock Creek Park did not come from Levy, Guandique or Condit. Prosecutors have said that DNA is likely a result of contamination in the evidence handling process.

"The police failed and fumbled this investigation," Hawilo said. "They can't fix their failure. They can't undo their mistakes. ... They have turned him into an easy scapegoat."

Hawilo did not mention Condit at all in her opening statement.