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Ingmar Guandique

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In a case similar to that of Mary P. Meyer, two miles and two decades apart.


D.C. police and federal prosecutors have announced they have charged an illegal immigrant from El Salvador with first-degree murder in the death of Chandra Levy in Rock Creek Park in May 2001. Ingmar Guandique, 27, is already serving a 10-year prison sentence for attacking two other women at knifepoint in the park around the time of Levy's disappearance.



New investigators, chief get credit in Levy caseBy NAFEESA SYEED and BRIAN WESTLEY – 3 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — It took a new police chief, a fresh team of investigators and the unyielding persistence of Chandra Levy's parents to finally get an arrest warrant in one of the nation's most famous cold cases.

A Salvadoran illegal immigrant in prison for two other attacks in the same park where authorities say the young federal intern was sexually assaulted and killed will face a first-degree murder charge. But it took eight years to overcome a bungled police investigation that focused on then-Congressman Gary Condit, who had been romantically linked to Levy.

"It's really never too late," said Cathy Lanier, chief of District of Columbia police. "I think the combination of a fresh set of eyes and passage of time is sometimes what's needed in cold cases."

Lanier, a nearly 20-year veteran of the D.C. force, had an interest in lingering unsolved crimes. Among her first initiatives when she assumed the chief position in January 2007 was to revisit some of the thousands of cold cases. She assigned three new detectives to the Levy case and they were joined by three federal prosecutors. The team interviewed at least a dozen witnesses and picked up a trail that led them back to Ingmar Guandique, who had been questioned but not seriously considered as a suspect until recently.

Key to breaking the case appeared to be interviews — detailed in an affidavit supporting the arrest warrant — with at least two witnesses who claimed Guandique told them he killed Levy. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said there was no physical evidence linking Guandique to the crime, but that the "cumulative weight" of circumstantial evidence gathered led investigators to the conclusion that Guandique was the killer.

The six-member team has already had success. Last year, the team solved the 1996 D.C. slaying of 23-year-old Shaquita Bell, a northern Virginia resident whose body has never been found. Bell's ex-boyfriend, a convicted felon, pleaded guilty in October to killing her.

But police weren't the only ones to investigate. Since Levy went missing nearly eight years ago, the Levy family hired its own investigators, college students studied the case and The Washington Post wrote a 12-part series that ultimately fingered Guandique as the prime suspect.

The Levy family hounded police about the delays. Frustrated, they hired forensic experts who examined Levy's remains and scoured the area of Rock Creek Park where her bones were found a year after she disappeared. The team found Levy's shinbone and other items police had missed.

The 24-year-old Levy had just completed an internship with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons when she disappeared after leaving her apartment in jogging clothes. The case also received renewed attention from the Post, which spent about a year reconstructing Levy's disappearance. Lanier praised the series but said it did not report new information, which was disputed by the newspaper's assistant managing editor for investigations, Jeff Leen.

He said two women who were attacked by Guandique in Rock Creek Park shortly after Levy disappeared were not interviewed by detectives assigned to the case until after the paper's stories were published.

"If there was nothing new, why did they wait until after the series to take these steps?" he said.

College students also worked on the case. Nearly 100 students from four universities in Georgia and Alabama conducted a yearlong study, passing their findings on to police in December. Sheryl McCollum, who headed the study as director of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute at Bauder College in Atlanta, said there were tears and high-fives from students when the warrant was announced, she said.

She would not elaborate on what the students discovered. Instead, she credited police.

"If we put the spotlight on the case, great," McCollum said.

Critics have long pointed to early missteps in the investigation. Police failed to find Levy's body during a search shortly after the Modesto, Calif., resident disappeared. They didn't ask for videotapes from a security camera in Levy's apartment building before they had been taped over. And they spent too much time focusing on Condit's relationship with Levy, said Jack Barrett, who served as superintendent of D.C. police detectives until 2004.

"It was a fact of life, but it diverted from having the ability to focus on truly who may have been involved," he said.

More issues arose even when Guandique was identified early on. His polygraph was ruled inconclusive, possibly because the test had been administered through a translator, which is not the ideal method.

Terrance Gainer, who was the second-ranking D.C. police official at the time of Levy's disappearance, credited Lanier for revisiting the case.

"The major lesson I think for the public in this is that professional agencies like D.C. police don't give up," said Gainer, who is now the Senate's Sergeant At Arms.

He also defended the length of time it took for police to make an arrest.

"We had good detectives on it and I think at the time they made the best calls they could," he said. "The fact that detectives six years ago didn't solve it is not 'shame on them.' There are just so many things that go into solving a homicide."

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