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May 21, 2013

Witness in Chandra Levy murder case was government informer

The key witness in the trial of the man convicted of killing former intern Chandra Levy had a previously undisclosed history as a government snitch, a court hearing revealed Tuesday.

The key witness in the trial of the man convicted of killing former intern Chandra Levy had a previously undisclosed history as a government snitch, a court hearing revealed Tuesday.

The revelations about former Fresno, Calif., gang member Armando Morales might undermine his credibility, could taint prosecutors and definitely set the stage for defense attorneys to seek a new trial for Ingmar Guandique, the man convicted in November 2010 of the killing.

“Armando Morales lied to the jury in this case, and the Department of Justice had proof of those lies before and during the trial,” defense attorney Jon Anderson said after a three-hour hearing. “Mr. Guandique deserves a new trial.”

Morales’s prior snitching apparently ranged from sharing tips about certain unspecified violent crimes to informing authorities about drugs and weapons at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta, according to information aired for the first time Tuesday. Defense attorneys say Morales was hoping to trade this information for benefits such as better treatment, and that they were at an unfair disadvantage by not knowing about it at trial.

“That information may have impeached Mr. Morales’ testimony,” District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher said.

Prosecutors are legally obliged to share potentially helpful information with defense attorneys. But though Morales’ prior snitching reportedly was recorded in Bureau of Prisons records, among other sources, defense attorneys and the judge didn’t learn about it until last year. Through a series of still-secret events, federal prosecutors in Washington say the information was belatedly brought to their own attention, prompting them to alert the judge and, eventually, the defense.

A decision on a new trial is still many months away.

“The last word will not be today,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman acknowledged Tuesday, adding that defense arguments amounted to “speculation and conjecture.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement after the hearing that Morales "never asked for or received any benefit for his testimony in this case."

A former Bureau of Prisons intern, Levy was preparing to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home when she dropped from sight on May 1, 2001. Her disappearance attracted national notoriety after speculation, subsequently confirmed, that she’d been having an affair with then-Congressman Gary Condit, D-Calif. Levy’s skeletal remains were found in 2002 in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.

Lacking eyewitnesses or DNA evidence, prosecutors built their case primarily on circumstantial evidence. Guandique, for instance, had admitted to attacking two other women in Rock Creek Park. The linchpin, though, was Morales.

A founding member of the Fresno Bulldogs street gang, Morales was serving time on drug and weapons charges in federal prison in Kentucky when he shared a cell for several weeks with Guandique. Morales subsequently testified that Guandique had confessed to him that he’d killed Levy during a robbery attempt.

“He was the only witness that tied Ingmar Guandique to Chandra Levy,” Anderson noted.

During the trial, defense attorneys pressed Morales hard on his lengthy criminal record. They also suggested that he was always looking out for himself, citing his plea agreement in Fresno that led to a reduced sentence. In response, a prosecutor asked Morales whether he’d entered into prior cooperation agreements, in which he traded information for personal advantage.

“Did you have any kind of deal like that, in any of the cases in which you pled guilty and accepted responsibility?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines asked Morales during his Nov. 4, 2010, testimony.

“None,” Morales replied.

The subsequently uncovered information about Morales’ cooperation with law enforcement officials comes in several forms.

Another inmate, who’d traded information for leniency in his own case, wrote a three-page letter on Morales’ behalf, summarizing his claims about the Guandique confession. Defense attorneys say they were never given the first page, which detailed how Morales had previously given information to law enforcement.

Prosecutors say they properly turned over the entire letter.

Separately, prison intake forms include boxes to be checked if someone has helped law enforcement in the past. Defense attorneys say that some forms they now receive include the checked box, but they say they haven’t received the forms from all the prisons Morales has been in. The defense investigation also is delving into what other information is in Morales’ complete Bureau of Prisons file, as well as information from the Fresno-based federal prosecutors who dealt with Morales in the 1996 case that sent him to prison until 2016.

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