A judge on Thursday dismissed murder charges against a man accused in the death of Chandra Levy, a Washington intern whose 2001 disappearance created national headlines.
Federal prosecutors said they can no longer prove a case against Ingmar Guandique, Bill Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, said in a news release.
"Today, in the interests of justice and based on recent unforeseen developments that were investigated over the past week, the office moved to dismiss the case charging Ingmar Guandique with the May 2001 murder of Chandra Levy," he said. Miller did not specify what the developments were.
The public defender's office said the dismissal vindicates Guandique, who had always maintained his innocence, passed a lie detector test and was the victim of "the most unreliable evidence: a jailhouse informant."
Levy, a 24-year-old California native, was in Washington working as an intern for the Bureau of Prisons when she was last seen on May 1, 2001. Her skull was found more than a year later, on May 22, 2002, in Rock Creek Park.
Levy's disappearance gained national attention after her parents discovered a connection between her and Gary Condit, who was then a congressman for Levy's California district.
Condit was never a suspect in the case, but he and Levy were romantically linked and Condit was questioned intensively about Levy's whereabouts.
Levy's mother, Susan Levy, said she was "totally in a state of shock."
"I am sick to my stomach and am having trauma and grief all over again," she said.
Levy had no comment when asked what the government told her about dropping the charges, but said she hopes prosecutors will "put the information out there."
"We all want our truth," she said. "I want to make sure we find out the truth. My husband and I hope that justice is found for our family."
Condit issued a statement Thursday through his lawyer, saying he was disappointed in the dismissal.
"The failure of authorities to bring formal closure to this tragedy after 15 years is very disappointing but in no way alters the fact that Mr. Condit was long ago completely exonerated by authorities in connection with Ms. Levy's death," according to the statement.
Guandique, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, was sentenced to 60 years in prison after being convicted in 2010 of killing and robbing Levy.
His lawyers appealed the conviction and questioned the credibility of prosecution witness Armando Morales, a convicted felon and former gang member who testified that Guandique confessed to him that he killed Levy.
A judge granted a new trial in May 2015 and the hearing was scheduled for October. Miller said prosecutors will not pursue the retrial.
Beyond Miller's brief statement, prosecutors didn't comment on the case.
Public defender criticizes government case
Laura E. Hankins of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia said, "This dismissal vindicates Mr. Guandique. Finally, the government has had to concede the flaws in its ill-gotten conviction."
Morales, she said, was "a perjurer who too easily manipulated the prosecutors."
"Because the government hid the identity of the jailhouse informant from the defense until just before trial and failed to provide critical documents to the defense, it took years of post-conviction investigation and litigation by the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia to uncover the extent of the flaws in Mr. Guandique's trial and to force the government to search and re-examine its own records," she said.
In a motion to dismiss filed last December, defense lawyers said Morales told District of Columbia prosecutors he'd never cooperated with authorities before the Guandique case because he adhered to a "don't snitch" philosophy.
But Morales had cooperated with different prosecutors over the years in exchange for favorable accommodations in prison, the documents said.
The motion also said prosecutors hid information from the defense, including the first page of Morales' original three-page statement about Guandique's supposed confession and other documents.
Guandique is in ICE custody
Police arrested Guandique in February 2009. He was then serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two other women in the park.
Judge Robert Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia signed an order dismissing the charges.
Guandique was released to the custody of immigration officials on Saturday and now faces deportation proceedings.
ICE issued this statement: "Based on today's court action, Ingmar Guandique will enter the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and be issued a notice to appear in immigration court. Due to his previous criminal convictions, he is considered a threat to public safety, and ICE intends to maintain him in custody."
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