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Police say arrest near in Chandra Levy case

Sun., Feb. 22, 2009

WASHINGTON – Police believe they have finally solved the slaying of government intern Chandra Levy, eight years after her disappearance transfixed Washington and much of the nation and ended the political career of a prominent California lawmaker, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department has submitted evidence to prosecutors that it believes proves that a Salvadoran immigrant already in prison for attacks against two other women killed Levy in a remote part of Rock Creek Park in northwest Washington in 2001, the official said.

The remains of the 24-year-old Levy were found a year after she vanished, and police and federal authorities have been investigating the case as a homicide ever since.

Police in recent days submitted their evidence to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, which prosecutes most local crimes in the capital, seeking an arrest warrant for Ingmar Guandique, a longtime suspect in the case, said the law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Levy’s parents, Robert and Susan Levy, said Saturday that two top Washington police officials called them Friday to say an arrest was imminent. The officials said they could not disclose the suspect’s name but that they had evidence that could “pinpoint” who killed their daughter and result in a conviction.

One of the callers, Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier, said she considered it “the highlight of her career” to be on the verge of closing the case, Susan Levy said in an interview Saturday at the couple’s Modesto, Calif., home.

“I think they have some new evidence but I don’t know what it is,” Robert Levy said. “We think it is the same person” convicted in the similar assaults, he said in a reference to Guandique. The couple “thought that a few years ago,” he said.

Susan Levy said the news was welcome, but that it will never bring back her only daughter.

“I was excited at first because it’s been seven, eight years and there’s no answer. We want answers, we want judgment,” Levy said. “But it’s a bittersweet excitement. … Why did it even have to happen?”

Federal prosecutors will review the police department’s request for a warrant and determine if there is enough evidence to proceed. They would then forward the prosecution package to a judge for a second-tier review and approval.

Guandique is serving a 10-year prison sentence for attacking two female joggers in the same park at about the same time.

The Washington police department said Saturday that it would not discuss the case and a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office also declined to comment.

Levy’s disappearance in May 2001 set off a dragnet by the police and FBI that prompted headlines worldwide because it initially ensnared U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, a married man who later admitted to having an affair with Levy, a former Bureau of Prisons intern.

At times, police lines were flooded with calls from tipsters and psychics who claimed to have information about Levy’s whereabouts and what might have happened to her.

When last seen, Levy, 24, was wearing jogging clothes, and her possessions were found in her apartment as if she were planning to return soon.

Soon, Condit was being followed by reporters in Washington and his home district in California’s Central Valley. He was cleared as a suspect, but the publicity was cited as the main cause of Condit’s re-election defeat in 2002.

In a statement released today to television station WJLA in Washington, Condit said: “For the Levy family, we are glad they are finally getting the answers they deserve. For my family, I am glad that their years of standing together in the face of such adversity have finally led to the truth.”

“It is unfortunate that an insatiable appetite for sensationalism blocked so many from searching for the real answers for so long,” Condit added. “I had always hoped to have the opportunity to tell my side of this story, but too many were not prepared to listen. Now I plan to do so, but I will have no further comments on this story at this time.”

How the police came by the information that they believe solves the case was unclear.

The Levys said they were told that a possible breakthrough in the case came, at least in part, due to the increased attention spurred by a Washington Post series about the slaying and the police department’s handling of it that was published last year. The 13-part series, the result of a yearlong investigation by three reporters, concluded that the initial focus on Condit distracted investigators.

The series identified Guandique as the leading potential suspect, based in part on documentary evidence assembled by authorities. It also interviewed Guandique, who said he welcomed an aggressive police investigation because he believed it would clear him.

“Regarding the case of the girl, Chandra Levy: I don’t know anything about that case. In 2001, the FBI went to see me when I was in the (D.C. jail). That was when I learned about that girl,” Guandique told the paper.

“I have nothing to do with the death of that girl. I am innocent, and I am not afraid of the police investigation.”

On Saturday, photographs of a smiling Chandra hung in the living room of the Levys’ home in an upscale suburban community surrounded by farms and orchards. They also have a son, 27, who lives on the East Coast.

The Levys said that they remain angry at Condit for doing things that were “improper,” and frustrated that it has taken until now for police to gather enough evidence to ask for an arrest warrant to be issued.

“It has taken a long time,” Susan Levy said of the police investigation, which she described as being “a little shoddy” at the outset. She said she and her husband have not slept much since hearing about the pending arrest. Robert Levy, tears running down his face, said the news has just reignited his grief.

“There might be relief. I don’t feel it. Assuming that he is the one and he is put away, there might be some relief in that.”


 

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