WASHINGTON — Lawyers for a man convicted of killing Washington intern Chandra Levy filed a court document Tuesday detailing reasons he should get a new trial, a document that follows months of hearings involving a potential problem with a key witness.
The 84-page document filed on Ingmar Guandique’s behalf contends that during Guandique’s 2010 trial his one-time cellmate, Armando Morales, gave false or misleading testimony. Morales was a star witness at Guandique’s trial, testifying that Guandique confided in him that he was responsible for Levy’s murder. Because there was no physical evidence linking Guandique to Levy’s death, Morales’ testimony was some of the trial’s most powerful.
Defense lawyers argue that prosecutors ignored “red flags” about Morales that should have prompted further investigation, knew but failed to disclose information as they should have and knew that portions of Morales’ testimony were false.
“The prosecutors in this case had evidence showing that Morales’s testimony was false. That evidence was not disclosed to the defense or presented to the jury. The evidence would have changed the course of the trial. Had it been presented to jurors, they would have discredited Morales’s testimony and acquitted,” Guandique’s lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors responded in a statement that Morales was just one of numerous government witnesses and that it “is premature to cast doubt on Mr. Morales’s credibility before he has an opportunity to address the defense’s speculation and conjecture.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that defense attorneys have made “baseless allegations” about prosecutors’ conduct during the case.
Levy’s 2001 disappearance created a national sensation after the Modesto, California, native was romantically linked with then-Rep. Gary Condit, a California Democrat. Once the main suspect, Condit was ultimately ruled out.
Levy’s body was found in a Washington park in 2002 and prosecutors argued her death fit a pattern of attacks that Guandique committed on female joggers. Guandique was in prison for those attacks and wasn’t charged in Levy’s death until 2009. He is serving a 60-year sentence for her death, though he has maintained he is innocent.
In 2012, when the case was on appeal, prosecutors discovered and disclosed additional information about Morales’ contact with law enforcement, information a judge said could be used to discredit his testimony. Several hearings followed, and Guandique’s lawyers said last November that they would seek a new trial, prompting Tuesday’s motion.
Defense attorneys say prosecutors knew Morales’ credibility was “questionable” but didn’t “reasonably investigate Morales.”
In particular, Guandique’s lawyers contend Morales, a former California gang member, made a number of false or misleading claims at trial, including whether he had previously provided information to law enforcement officials.
In fact, in the 1990s, Morales provided information about his gang to a California sheriff’s department, corrections officials and federal agents, defense lawyers said in their brief. At one point, Morales discussed three California murders and agreed to serve as a witness if necessary, defense attorneys wrote. In the 2000s, Morales signed prison forms acknowledging he had “assisted law enforcement,” defense lawyers said.
Defense lawyers also argue Morales testified he had not asked for anything in exchange for his testimony when, in fact, he asked prosecutors to be put in a witness protection program. They argue prosecutors should have disclosed that request.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that Morales “never asked for or received any benefit for his testimony in this case.” Prosecutors are expected to argue against a new trial in a court filing due in late June.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher, who presided over Guandique’s trial and later hearings, has scheduled an October hearing on the request for a new trial.