At 1:14 p.m., Mayor Adrian M. Fenty held a press conference at D.C. police headquarters to announce that an arrest warrant had been issued for illegal Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique in the May 2001 murder of congressional intern Chandra Levy. The announcement has been widely anticipated since Feb. 20, when news accounts reported a break in the case.
Those accounts may have helped seal the arrest. According to arrest documents [PDF] filed in D.C. Superior Court, Guandique, who is now incarcerated for other attacks, “heard a recent news report on the radio, broadcasting that he would be arrested soon for the Levy murder. [A witness] said that Guandique became very anxious and said something to the effect of, ‘Fuck, it’s over. They got me now. What am I gonna do?'”
Guandique told the witness that when detectives came to arrest him, “he was going to escape by starting a fire with a battery and tissue to cause a distraction.”
The arrest stems from Guandique’s own jailhouse ramblings. The new evidence in the case comes mainly from other inmates and people who have heard Guandique talk about the Levy murder. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says that these witnesses have been thoroughly vetted.
Lanier was asked if the Washington Post‘s multipart series in 2008 on the Levy case had anything to do with the arrest. She responded that it didn’t, calling the paper’s reporting old news. “The Post series revealed what was known at the time,” she said. The provenance of the Guandique arrest, said Lanier, dates back to spring 2007, when she reviewed several cold cases, including Shaquita Bell‘s and Levy’s.
Lanier has made solving old homicides one of her priorities. Since the late ’60s, there are 3,700 cold cases in the District yet to be solved, according to Capt. Michael Farish. In spring 2007, Lanier saw enough in the Levy file to assign new detectives to the case. She also met with the Levy family and assured them that if there was any break in the case, she would make sure the family wouldn’t have to first read about it a newspaper.
This morning, Lanier called the Levys and told them about the arrest warrant in their daughter’s case. She told reporters after the press conference that the call was an emotional one, that it was clear there wasn’t anything she could do for the family except help convict her daughter’s killer.
Lanier and Fenty thanked the efforts of the new detectives and the prosecutors who worked the case. Lanier said the detectives chased leads and interviewed witnesses across the country. She credited the passage of time, the fresh eyes, and passion of the detectives in solving the Levy case.
But many of those witnesses referenced in the court filing, turned out to be the kinds of witnesses found in a lot of homicide cases: prison informants and outside friends.
According to the court filing, a witness was interviewed in late 2008. This witness professed to having communicated with Guandique in 2003 via letters. During the course of their correspondence, “Guandique wrote that he spent time in a park in D.C. and that he was responsible for the murder of a young woman.” The witness later spoke with Guandique in a recorded telephone conversation; during the exchange, Guandique acknowledged that he had written to the witness about a dead woman.
In November 2008, a witness interviewed in the investigation stated he had known Guandique for several years; Guandique had boasted to the witness that he was a member of MS-13 and that he had committed many robberies and that he had a nickname, “Chuckie,” “because he had a reputation for killing and chopping up people.” He also confessed that he had committed many crimes against women, including rapes. “Guandique said that he would hide on a dirt path and wait for the girl to walk by. He would then lasso the girl around the neck and tie her hands and feet together behind her back to prevent her from scratching or kicking him. He claimed that he would tie the girl up with a rope….After the girl was tied up, he would rape her.”
A different witness gave an extensive account of what Guandique had said about the incident. According to this witness, Guandique had revealed that he and “two teenage males were sitting on a bench in a ‘big park’ that stretches from D.C., through Maryland, and Virginia, smoking marijuana laced with cocaine, when he saw Levy jogging in an area where people walk their dogs…When he saw Levy, she had curly hair, and he thought she ‘looked good.’ He told the other two males that he was going to ‘get her.’ According to Guandique, the three then followed Levy along a track where the ladies run. Guandique stated that they grabbed her and took her into the bushes. Guandique said that they ‘had her down,’ and the ‘bitch’ started screaming and fighting back. It was then, according to Guandique, that he grabbed her by the neck and choked her to death.”
Guandique went on to claim, according to this unnamed witness, that after he murdered Levy, “he told his family that if the law should question them about the scratches on his face, they should say it was because of a fight with his girlfriend ‘Iris.’ Guandique also admitted that he attempted to rape two other women in the park with a knife, who got away, but that he pled guilty to crimes of burglary, robbery and assault.”
The court filing goes on to state that Guandique had talked about the Levy murder as early as 2002. “Although inconsistent in some respects with accounts he gave to other witnesses, Guandique admitted to [the witness] that he had killed Chandra Levy, and claimed others were involved with him in the homicide.”
In one letter to this witness, Guandique wrote: “what I think about what we spoke when we met, is that you are a good friend, because not everybody keeps to himself something like what I told you.”
U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor, asked if they were looking for the other males, said the investigation is ongoing.
Taylor stated during the press conference that it would take between 45 to 60 days to bring Guandique to the District for his arraignment on first-degree murder charges. He stressed that there wasn’t one thing that led to the Guandique’s arrest, that his arrest came about from the “cumulative weight of evidence.”
The take-away quote: “We believe Ms. Levy was a random victim of Guandique,” Taylor said.
Taylor also defended law enforcement’s initial focus on Rep. Gary Condit. He said detectives were just following where the evidence led. After Levy’s body was discovered in May 2002, Taylor said, the case shifted.
Fenty added that the Levy case was an example of law enforcement diligence. “We will not give up on any case,” he said.
Reporting by Jason Cherkis