Chandra Levy

Chandra Levy

Senior portrait of Chandra Levy
Born Chandra Ann Levy
April 14, 1977(1977-04-14)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Died May 1, 2001(2001-05-01) (aged 24)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Body discovered May 22, 2002(2002-05-22)
Rock Creek Park, D.C.
Citizenship American
Alma mater San Francisco State University
University of Southern California
Occupation Intern
Employer Federal Bureau of Prisons
Home town Modesto, California, U.S.
Parents Robert and Susan Levy

Chandra Ann Levy (April 14, 1977 – May 1, 2001) was an American intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., who disappeared in May 2001. She was presumed murdered after her skeletal remains were found in Rock Creek Park in May 2002.[1] The case attracted attention from the American news media for years.[2]

The investigation led to media allegations of an extramarital affair with then-U.S. Representative Gary Condit,[3] a five-term Democrat representing California's 18th congressional district and a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Condit was never named a suspect by police and was eventually cleared of involvement. However, the cloud of suspicion raised by the intense media focus on the missing intern and the later revelation of the affair led to his loss in his 2002 re-election campaign.[4]

The circumstances surrounding Levy's death were unclear for eight years. On March 3, 2009, D.C. authorities obtained a warrant to arrest Ingmar Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who had already been convicted of assaulting two other women in Rock Creek Park around the time of Levy's disappearance.[4] Prosecutors stated that Guandique had attacked and tied up Levy in a remote area of the park and either strangled her to death or left her to die of dehydration or exposure.[5][6] In November 2010, Guandique was convicted of murdering Levy;[7] he was sentenced in February 2011 to 60 years in prison.[8]


Life and background

Levy interned at the central office of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C.[9]

Levy was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Robert and Susan Levy, and grew up in Modesto, California, where she attended Grace M. Davis High School. Her parents Robert and Susan Levy are members of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative Jewish synagogue.[10] She attended San Francisco State University, where she earned a degree in journalism. After interning for the California Bureau of Secondary Education and working in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, she began attending the University of Southern California to earn a master's degree in public administration.[11]

As part of her final semester of study, Levy moved to Washington, D.C., to become a paid intern with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.[11][12] In October 2000, she began her internship at the bureau's central office,[13] where she was assigned to the public affairs division.[14] Her supervisor, bureau spokesperson Dan Dunne, was impressed with Levy's work, especially her handling of media inquiries regarding the upcoming execution of Timothy McVeigh.[12] In January 2001, she told her landlord that she was considering breaking the lease of her apartment at Dupont Circle to move in with a boyfriend, but changed her mind by the following month because "it didn't work out."[13][14] Levy's internship was abruptly terminated in April 2001, because her academic eligibility was found to have expired in December 2000. She had already completed her master's degree requirements and was scheduled to return to California in May 2001 for graduation.[11]

Murder case

Disappearance and search

Police conducted preliminary searches around Klingle Mansion in 2001.[15]

Levy was last seen on May 1, 2001. The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia was first alerted on May 6, when Levy's parents called from Modesto to report that they had not heard from their daughter in five days. Police called hospitals and visited Levy's apartment in Dupont Circle that day, finding no indication of foul play. On May 7, Levy's father told the police that his daughter had been having an affair with a U.S. congressman, and stated on the next day that he believed the congressman to be U.S. Representative Gary Condit. Levy's aunt also called the police and told them that Chandra had confided in her about the affair. Police obtained a warrant on May 10 to conduct a formal search of Levy's apartment. Investigators found her credit cards, identification and mobile phone left behind in her purse along with partially packed suitcases. The answering machine was full, with messages left by her relatives and two from Condit. A police sergeant tried to examine Levy's laptop computer and inadvertently corrupted the internet search data as he was not a trained technician.[15]

Computer experts took a month to reconstruct the data to determine that the laptop was used on the morning of May 1 to search for websites related to Amtrak, Baskin-Robbins, Condit, Southwest Airlines, and a weather report from The Washington Post. The last search at 12:24 p.m. was for the location of Klingle Mansion,[15] a historic house at Rock Creek Park that is used as the park's administrative office.[16] On July 25, 2001, three D.C. police sergeants and 28 police cadets searched along Glover Road in the park but failed to find evidence related to Levy. Later, a second attempt also produced nothing.[15]

Relationship with Condit

Then-congress member Gary Condit

Controversy surrounding Levy's disappearance drew the attention of the American news media.[17] Levy's parents and friends held numerous vigils and news conferences in an attempt to "bring Chandra home."[18][19][20] Condit, a married man who represented the congressional district in which the Levy family resided, at first denied that he had had an affair with her. Though police stated that Condit was not a suspect, Levy's family expressed that they felt Condit was being evasive and possibly hiding information about the matter.[17]

Unidentified police sources alleged that Condit had admitted to an affair with Levy during an interview with law enforcement officers on July 7, 2001.[3][21] Condit described her to police as a vegetarian who avoided drinking and smoking. He thought that Levy was going to return after her graduation and was surprised to find out that the lease on her apartment had ended.[17] Investigators searched Condit's apartment on July 10, and questioned flight attendant Anne Marie Smith, who claimed that Condit told her she did not need to speak to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his personal life.[22] Federal officials began investigating Condit for possible obstruction of justice as Smith was also involved in an affair with him, though she was not an acquaintance of Levy's.[23] Upset by leaks to the media, Condit refused to submit to a polygraph test by the D.C. police; his attorney asserted that Condit passed a test administered by a privately hired examiner on July 13. He also avoided answering direct questions during a televised interview on August 23, with news anchor Connie Chung on the ABC News program Primetime Thursday.[17] Intensive coverage continued until news of the September 11 attacks supplanted the media's coverage of the Levy case.[24]

In a nationwide Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of 900 registered voters conducted in July 2001, 44 percent of American respondents thought that Condit was involved in Levy's disappearance and 27 percent felt that he should resign. Fifty-one percent of the respondents believed that he was acting as if he were guilty and only 13 percent felt that he should run again for office. However, the poll sample taken from Condit's congressional district held a more favorable view of Condit.[25] On March 5, 2002, Condit lost the Democratic primary election for his Congressional seat to his former aide, then-Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza,[26] with the Levy controversy being cited as a contributing factor.[17] He was subpoenaed to appear on April 1, 2002, before a District of Columbia grand jury investigating the disappearance. The date was kept a carefully guarded secret to avoid further leaks.[27] Condit left Congress at the end of his term on January 3, 2003.[28]

Discovery of remains

District of Columbia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced on May 22, 2002, that skeletal remains matching Levy's dental records had been discovered by a man walking his dog and looking for turtles in Rock Creek Park. Detectives found bones and personal items scattered, but not buried, in a forested area along a steep incline.[29] A sports bra, sweat shirt, leggings and tennis shoes were among the evidence that was recovered. Though police had previously covered over half the area of the 1,754-acre (7.10 km2) park, that particular slope had not been searched due to its remoteness, a mile (1.6 km) north of the Klingle Mansion and about four miles (6 km) from Levy's apartment. After a preliminary autopsy was performed, District of Columbia police announced that there was sufficient evidence to open a homicide investigation. On May 28, D.C. medical examiner Jonathan L. Arden officially declared Levy's death a homicide, but said, "There's less to work with here than I would like. It's possible we will never know specifically how she died."[1] On June 6, after the police completed their search, private investigators hired by the Levys found her shin bone with some twisted wire about 25 yards (23 m) from the other remains. Police chief Ramsey said, "It is unacceptable that these items were not located."[30]

Memorial services

On May 28, 2002, the Levy family organized a memorial service at the Modesto Centre Plaza that drew over 1,200 people, some from as far as Los Angeles.[31][32][33] Speakers at the 90-minute ceremony included Levy's brother, grandmother, great-aunt and friends.[34] In a eulogy delivered in Hebrew and English by Rabbi Peter Gordon, Levy was described as "a good person taken from us much too soon."[31] About a year later, on May 27, 2003, Levy's remains were buried in Lakewood Memorial Park Cemetery at Hughson, California, near her home town of Modesto. Attended by about 40 of Levy's friends and family members, the private ceremony concluded with the release of 12 white doves.[35]

Identification of the prime suspect

In September 2001, D.C. police and federal prosecutors were contacted by the lawyer of an informant, held in a D.C. jail, who claimed to have knowledge of Levy's killer. The informant, whose identity was protected for his safety, said that Ingmar Guandique, a 20-year-old Salvadoran also being held in the jail, told him that Condit paid him $25,000 to kill Levy. Investigators ruled out the story about Condit, but Guandique had already admitted to assaulting two other women in the same park where Levy's remains were found.[24] Guandique also failed to show up for work on the day of Levy's disappearance.[36] His former landlady recalled that his face became scratched and bruised at around that time.[2] However, the investigators on the Levy case did not interview the other Rock Creek Park victims.[37] Police chief Ramsey avoided calling Guandique a suspect and described him as a "person of interest",[38] telling reporters not to make "too big a deal" about him. Assistant chief Terrance W. Gainer said that if Guandique had been considered a suspect, D.C. police would have been after him "like flies on honey."[2]

Guandique was incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary, Victorville for assaults against two other women in Rock Creek Park.[4]

Guandique denied attacking Levy.[39] On November 28, the FBI had the informant take a polygraph test, which he failed. A test on Guandique, administered on February 4, 2002, returned inconclusive results that were officially ruled "not deceptive". Because the informant and Guandique both spoke little English, D.C. chief detective Jack Barrett said that he would have preferred polygraph tests administered by bilingual examiners, who were unavailable at the time.[24] When Judge Noel Anketell Kramer was asked about Guandique's potential connection to the Levy homicide, she responded, "This is such a satellite issue. To me it doesn't have anything to do with this case." Kramer sentenced Guandique to 10 years in prison for his other attacks at Rock Creek Park.[2] Guandique was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary, Big Sandy near Inez, Kentucky,[40] and was later transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary at Victorville, California.[4]

The Levy homicide remained listed as a "cold case" until 2006, when Cathy L. Lanier succeeded Ramsey as D.C. police chief. Lanier replaced the lead detective on the case with three veteran investigators who had more homicide experience.[37] In 2007, the editors of the Washington Post assigned a new team of reporters to take a year to re-examine the Levy case.[2] The resulting series of articles, published during the summer of 2008, focused on the past failure of the police to fully investigate Guandique's connection to the attacks in Rock Creek Park. In September 2008, investigators searched Guandique's federal prison cell in California and found a photo of Levy that he had saved from a magazine. Police interviewed acquaintances of Guandique and witnesses of the other Rock Creek Park incidents.[37] On March 3, 2009, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia issued an arrest warrant for Guandique.[41] He was returned to the custody of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections on April 20 via the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City.[42] Two days later, Guandique was charged in D.C. with Levy's murder.[43] He was indicted by a grand jury on six counts: kidnapping, first degree murder committed during a kidnapping, attempted first degree sexual abuse, first degree murder committed during a sexual offense, attempted robbery, and first degree murder committed during a robbery.[44] Guandique pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, where a trial date was initially set for January 27, 2010.[45] His lawyers unsuccessfully argued that Guandique's federal prison cell was outside the jurisdiction of a court-ordered search.[46] However, after errors in processing contaminated some of the gathered evidence with DNA from employees of the prosecution,[47] the start date of the trial at the Moultrie Courthouse was moved to October 4, 2010.[46]

Trial of Guandique

Guandique was tried at the Moultrie Courthouse in Washington, D.C.[46]

On October 18, 2010, jury selection commenced in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia before Judge Gerald I. Fisher. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez presented the names of potential witnesses for the trial, including FBI agent Brad Garrett and the two women whom Guandique was convicted of assaulting. At the start of the trial, the prosecution's case was expected to take around four weeks and the defense was expected to take one day.[48] On October 25 and 26, Halle Shilling and Christy Wiegand testified about being attacked by Guandique while jogging in Rock Creek Park. Wiegand recounted that Guandique grabbed her from behind, dragged her down a ravine and held a knife against her face.[49]

On October 26, 2010, Levy's then-64-year-old father, Robert, took the stand and refuted statements about his past suspicions of Condit. Robert Levy testified that he told authorities during the early years of the investigation that his daughter Chandra would have been too cautious to jog in the woods alone, but stated that he no longer believed this to be true. He said that he also told police that his daughter and Condit had a five year plan between them to get married. In retrospect, Robert Levy admitted: "I just said whatever came to mind just to point to him as the villain." Robert Levy added that he had been convinced that Condit was “guilty until we learned about this character here”, referring to Guandique.[50] On November 1, Condit testified at the trial and was asked on at least three occasions if he and Chandra Levy had been involved in a sexual relationship. He replied, "I am not going to respond to that question out of privacy for myself and Chandra."[51] An FBI biologist testified that sperm matching Condit's DNA profile was found on underwear from Levy's apartment.[52]

Prosecution witness Armando Morales, who shared a cell with Guandique at the U.S. Penitentiary in Kentucky, testified that Guandique was concerned about being transferred between prisons in 2006 because of inmate violence against suspected rapists. Morales stated that Guandique, a fellow member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, confided to him that he had killed Levy while trying to rob her, but said that he did not rape her.[53][54] The prosecution rested their case on November 10,[55] while dropping two out of the six charges against Guandique: sexual assault and murder associated with that assault.[56] On November 15, the defense rested its case without calling Guandique to the stand. Other prison witnesses called by the defense refuted Morales' testimony. Jose Manuel Alaniz said that Guandique made no mention of rape or murder while sharing a cell with both Alaniz and Morales at the penitentiary in Kentucky. However, Alaniz admitted under cross-examination that he "didn't want to be too nosy" and was often asleep at the prison while recovering from a gunshot wound. The prosecution dropped two more charges because the statute of limitations had passed: kidnapping and attempted robbery. During closing arguments for the remaining charges of first degree murder committed during a kidnapping and during a robbery,[53] prosecutor Amanda Haines contended that Guandique bound and gagged Levy after attacking her, leaving her to die of dehydration or exposure in the park. Defense attorney Santha Sonenberg countered with the lack of any DNA evidence connecting Guandique to the crime scene.[6] Calling the prosecution's case "fiction", Sonenberg suggested that Levy had been murdered elsewhere, with her dead body being dumped in the park.[57]

The jury began deliberations on November 17, 2010.[57] Scheduled proceedings of the case met delays because of increased security at the courthouse.[58] After two days of deliberations, all but one juror had voted to convict Guandique.[59] On the third day, the jury asked Judge Gerald Fisher to clarify the definition of assault.[60] Fisher responded that any physical injury could legally be considered an assault, regardless of how small.[61] On November 22, 2010, the jury found Guandique guilty of both remaining counts of first degree murder.[62] After the trial, a juror said the testimony of Morales was decisive in reaching the verdict.[63] The conviction was called a "miracle" for having been reached with only circumstantial evidence.[64] Gladys Weatherspoon, who had previously represented Guandique in the 2001 assault cases, stated that she was troubled by the jury's verdict: "I just think they were going to convict anyway.... They felt bad for that woman, the mom. She's sitting in there every day."[63] At a post-trial press conference, Susan Levy said, "There's always going to be a feeling of sadness. I can surely tell you, it ain't closure."[65] Since the conclusion of the trial, Susan Levy has moved to keep photographic evidence of her daughter's remains sealed from the news media.[66]

Sentencing and appeals

On February 1, 2011, Guandique's attorneys requested a new trial on the grounds that the verdict had been improperly attained. The 17-page filing claimed that the prosecutors had appealed to the emotions of the jury, using "references to facts not in evidence."[67] The motion also alleged that one juror, who did not take notes, had breached the judge's instructions not to be "influenced by another juror's notes."[67] The prosecution opposed a retrial, arguing that the issue regarding the notes was no more than a technicality that did not have a significant effect on the verdict.[68]

Guandique faced a minimum penalty of 30 years to a maximum of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.[7][62] In seeking the maximum possible sentence, the prosecutors stated that Guandique "is unable to control himself and thus, will always remain a danger to women."[68] A memo submitted by the prosecution in February 2011 cited Guandique's harassment of female staff in prison, including soliciting a nurse and masturbating in front of guards.[68] Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez disclosed that he had traveled to El Salvador with a detective to investigate allegations that Guandique had fled his native country because of suspected attacks against local women dating back to 1999.[69] During the sentencing hearing on February 11, Guandique said to Levy's family, "I am sorry for what happened to your daughter," and insisted on his innocence. Before Judge Gerald Fisher reminded her to address the court instead of the defendant, Susan Levy responded directly: "Did you really take her life? Look me in my eyes and tell me." Fisher denied Guandique's motion for retrial and handed down a sentence of 60 years in prison, stating that Guandique "will be a danger for some time. He's a sexual predator."[8]

On February 25, 2011, public defender James Klein filed an appeal of Guandique's conviction with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. According to the court's annual report, appeals take an average of 588 days to reach resolution.[70] Guandique will be eligible for parole when he is at least 80 years old.[71]

Media coverage

The disappearance of Chandra Levy became a national topic of the news media in the summer of 2001,[72] with 63 percent of Americans closely following the case.[17] The media swamped Levy's parents from the moment they decided to go to Washington, D.C. in search of their daughter.[73] According to Condit, there were about a hundred reporters camped out in front of his apartment during the morning of September 11, 2001, but they all left after news had spread about the terrorist attacks.[74] Media critics and cable news executives later cited the Levy case, as well as the concurrent sensationalist coverage of a string of shark attacks, as a reflection of the manner of news coverage in the United States before the September 11 attacks had taken priority.[75][76]

In 2002, D.C. newspaper Roll Call first reported the possible connection of Ingmar Guandique to the case, with little effect on the news media's focus on Condit.[2] Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin noted the lack of headlines that an illegal immigrant had been questioned in the Levy case. She stated that in her review of 115 news items from the Lexis-Nexis database, not a single mention of Guandique referred to his status as a "criminal illegal alien". She called the "glaring omission" of his status "a newsworthy act of negligence". She wrote that only the very conservative Human Events reported that the Immigration and Naturalization Service had approved his working legally while applying for temporary protected status. That application was ultimately denied, but not before he had already assaulted the two other women at Rock Creek Park.[77]

In 2005, investigative journalist Dominick Dunne said on Larry King Live that he believed Gary Condit knew more information about the Levy case than he had been disclosing. Condit filed two lawsuits against Dunne, forcing him into an undisclosed financial settlement on one of them. In 2008, U.S. District Judge Peter Leisure dismissed the other suit that alleged slander, because "The context in which Dunne's statements were made demonstrates that they were part of a discussion about 'speculation' in the media and inaccurate media coverage."[28]

During the summer of 2008, The Washington Post ran a 13-part series billed, in part, as "a tale of the tabloid and mainstream press pack journalism that helped derail the investigation." The two investigative reporters behind the Post series, Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz, wrote a book detailing their investigation. The book, Finding Chandra, was released in May 2010.[78] Commentators, including The Washington Post Metro reporter Robert Pierre wrote that emphasis on a glamorous white murder victim, when "about 200 people are killed in this city every year, most of them black and male," was "absolutely absurd and dare I say, racist, at its core."[79][80]

The media were criticized for their "rush to judgment" in suggesting, sometimes blatantly, that Condit was guilty of the murder, especially in the early days of the investigation.[81][82] Some of the reporters camped in front of Condit's Washington apartment house were quoted as saying that they would remain there "until he resigns."[83][84] When Ingmar Guandique was convicted in November 2010 of murdering Levy, Condit's lawyer Bert Fields remarked, "It's a complete vindication but that comes a little late. Who gives him his career back?"[85]


Levy's death had a lasting impact, in part due to the efforts of her family and friends. Levy's disappearance came after a number of other high-profile cases that led to the creation of resources for missing young adults. For example, Levy's parents quickly turned for help to the Carole Sund/Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation,[19] a nonprofit group that was established in Modesto after three female hikers disappeared from a 1999 trip to Yosemite National Park and were later found slain. That foundation, which offered the Levys staff support and contributed towards a cash reward for information about Chandra's disappearance, was merged into the Laci & Conner Search and Rescue Fund in 2009;[86] Susan Levy had previously participated in the efforts to find Laci Peterson, another missing woman from Modesto.[87] In 1997, 18-year-old Kristen Modafferi mysteriously disappeared from North Carolina and her parents turned to their congresswoman for help when Kristen was deemed too old to be helped by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As a result, Congress enacted "Kristen's Law" in October 2000, which established the National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA) within the U.S. Department of Justice to coordinate such missing person cases.[88] By the time Levy disappeared, institutions were in place to provide her family with support and to assist in a nationwide search to locate her. Although the Levy family moved quickly to mobilize all such available resources, including offering a cash reward for information, hiring their own investigators,[89] and seeking media attention, those efforts to locate Chandra Levy or find her killer were overshadowed by the speculation surrounding her possible relationship with Condit. Susan Levy later joined with Donna Raley, the mother of another young woman who disappeared in 1999 from Modesto, to form "Wings of Protection", a support group for people with missing loved ones.[90][91] The Mary Ann Liebert company, publishers of the Journal of Women's Health and Gender-Based Medicine, presented their annual Criterion Award in May 2002 to Susan Levy for her work with "Wings of Protection".[92]

Newsweek magazine stated that the media may have become more skeptical of "herd mentality" and open to alternative suspects after the Levy case.[93] The D.C. police claimed that they would have discovered Levy's body earlier, if not for a miscommunication regarding the scope of the search. Commanders had ordered a search within 100 yards (91 m) of each road and trail in Rock Creek Park, but searches were focused within 100 yards of roads only, resulting in the body remaining undiscovered for a longer period of time.[15] Both the Chief of Detectives, Jack Barrett, and the Chief of Police, Charles H. Ramsey, have since left the force in D.C. Ramsey became head of the Philadelphia Police Department; Barrett, who became an analyst for an intelligence support firm in Arlington, Virginia, stated in hindsight that the media had imposed "enormous amounts of pressure" on the D.C. police.[94] Morales, who is serving time for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and crack cocaine, is scheduled to be released on August 5, 2016.[95] Condit retired from politics and moved with his wife to Phoenix, Arizona, to manage real estate and open two Baskin-Robbins franchises, which have since closed.[96][97]


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