Here are five reasons Guandique was convicted.
1. The Prosecution
How do you convict a man of a nine-year-old murder with no evidence and no eyewitnesses?
Call assistant U.S. attorneys Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez.
This case was remarkably bad. It was a sloppy, haphazard collection of suggestions and flimsy connections. It was a mess. Haines and Campoamor, apparently, were not.
The high point came when Haines got to her feet and told the jury a story during her closing argument. She spoke of three women, whose attacks were too similar to not be related. Two survived, one would not. Haines took the jury through what Levy’s final days and hours could have been like. She hung up stained running clothes recovered at the Levy crime scene, like the courtroom was a closet. Her words were emotional and powerful, and the story suddenly seemed a bit less hazy. After nearly two weeks of scattered testimony, Haines connected the dots.
2. Armando Morales
Armando Morales was a fantastic witness, orange prison jumpsuit be damned. Morales, a jailhouse snitch and former cellmate of Guandique’s, told the jury that the defendant confessed to killing Levy when they were housed together at a Kentucky prison. Yes, the inmate’s story had problems. Most notably: another cellmate from the same prison, who said he never heard Guandique mention Levy’s name. The jury, however, apparently found Morales trustworthy enough.
3. Halle Shilling and Christy Wiegand
Halle Shilling, Christy Wiegand, and Chandra Levy were all attacked in Rock Creek Park, the government alleged. Prosecutors said all three were jumped by a Hispanic man on lonely park trails. The only difference between Levy's attacks and those on Shilling and Wiegand is that the 24-year-old intern wouldn't survive hers.
Both Shilling and Wiegand testified early in Guandique’s trial, giving detailed and compelling accounts of the 2001 incidents. Although many details of Levy’s death remain hazy, the government was hoping that jurors would still link her death with Shilling and Wiegand, whose attacks sent Guandique to prison.
4. Chandra Levy
The Chandra Levy investigation was big, explosive news. It contributed to the demise of a sitting congressman’s political career and made headlines for months. Levy’s face flooded the evening news and the search drew a national audience. Then the case went cold. For years, there were no answers, until Guandique was charged in connection to Levy’s death in 2009. Jurors were questioned about their prior knowledge of the case before they were seated for the trial. Many in the original pool said they knew about Levy’s disappearance but had stopped following the story. But did that bit of prior knowledge still affect the verdict or deliberations?
5. The defense team
This jury knew this would be a bad case from the start — Haines had said as much during her opening statements. There was no DNA evidence linking Guandique to the crime, no eyewitnesses of an attack. Yes, the prosecution team deserves credit for convincing this jury. But it’s also rather shocking that the defense attorneys Santha Sonenberg and Maria Hawilo failed to persuade the jury. Sonenberg and Hawilo often seemed caught up in smaller matters that didn’t help advance their case. Ingmar Guandique needed and deserved a spirited, fierce, thorough defense. Many of the pretrial motions and statements indicated that Hawilo and Sonenberg were more than capable of delivering just that. In this trial, however, they often just fell flat.