Chandra Ann Levy (April 14, 1977 – c. May 1, 2001) was an American intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C., who disappeared in May 2001. She was presumed murdered after her skeletal remains were found in Rock Creek Park in May 2002.
The investigation led to media allegations of an extramarital affair with then-U.S. Representative Gary Condit, a five-term Democrat representing California's 18th congressional district and a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Condit was never named a suspect by police and was ultimately cleared of involvement. However, the cloud of suspicion raised by the intense media focus on the missing intern and the later revelation of the affair led to his loss in his 2002 re-election campaign.
The circumstances surrounding Levy's death remained unclear for many years. On March 3, 2009, D.C. police and federal prosecutors announced they had arrested Ingmar Guandique, a 27-year-old citizen of El Salvador, as a suspect in the case. Guandique, whose trial began on October 19, 2010, had already been convicted of assaulting two other women in Rock Creek Park around the time of Levy's disappearance. Prosecutors believe that Guandique had attacked and tied up Levy in a remote area of the park, leaving her to die of dehydration or exposure.
Life and background
Levy interned at the central office of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C.
Levy was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in Modesto, California where she attended Grace M. Davis High School. Her parents Robert and Susan Levy are members of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative Jewish synagogue. She attended San Francisco State University, where she earned a degree in journalism. After interning for the California Bureau of Secondary Education and working in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, she began attending the University of Southern California to earn a Master's degree in Public Administration.
As part of her final semester of study, Levy moved to Washington, D.C. to become a paid intern with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In October 2000, she began her internship at the bureau's central office, where she was assigned to the public affairs division. Her supervisor, bureau spokesperson Dan Dunne, was impressed with Levy's work, especially her handling of media inquiries regarding the upcoming execution of Timothy McVeigh. In January 2001, she told her landlord that she was considering breaking the lease of her apartment at Dupont Circle to move in with a boyfriend, but changed her mind by the following month because "it didn't work out."
Levy's internship was abruptly terminated in April 2001, because her academic eligibility was found to have expired in December 2000. She had already completed her Master's degree requirements and was scheduled to return to California in May 2001 for graduation.
Disappearance and search
Police conducted preliminary searches around Klingle Mansion in 2001.
Levy was last seen on May 1, 2001. The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia were first alerted on May 6, when Levy's parents called from Modesto to report that they had not heard from their daughter in five days. Police visited Levy's apartment in Dupont Circle that same day and again over the next few days, finding no indication of foul play. On May 7, Levy's father told the police that his daughter had been having an affair with a Congressman, and on the next day told police he believed that Congressman to be Gary Condit. The same day, Levy's aunt called the police and told them that Chandra had confided in her about the affair. On May 10, police obtained a warrant and formally searched Levy's apartment. It was determined that on the morning of May 1, the day she was last seen, Levy or someone else had used her laptop computer to do an internet search for Klingle Mansion, located in Rock Creek Park. On July 25, 2001, three D.C. police sergeants and 28 police cadets searched along Glover Road in the park but failed to find evidence related to Levy. A second, later attempt also produced nothing.
They're looking for answers, and we don't have them yet.
—Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, D.C. Metro Police Department
Then-congressman Gary Condit
Controversy surrounding Levy's disappearance became a main topic of the American news media, and Levy's parents and friends held numerous vigils and news conferences in an attempt to "bring Chandra home." Condit, a married man who represented the congressional district in which the Levy family resided, at first denied that he had had an affair with her. His later statements left open the possibility of an affair. Even though police repeatedly stated that Condit was not a suspect, many in the media, along with Levy's family, felt that Condit was still being evasive and possibly hiding information about the matter. Police searched Condit's apartment. Condit later refused to submit to a polygraph test administered by the D.C. police. He also tried to avoid answering direct questions during a televised interview on August 23, 2001, with news anchor Connie Chung on the ABC News program Primetime Thursday.Intensive coverage continued until news of the September 11 attacks supplanted the media's coverage of the Levy case.
Condit appeared before a District of Columbia grand jury investigating the disappearance. He subsequently lost the Democratic primary election for his Congressional seat in March 2002, the Levy controversy being cited as a contributing factor. Condit left Congress at the end of his term in 2003. Later that year, Susan Levy participated in the efforts to find another missing Modesto woman, Laci Peterson.
We are parents, and our only concern is about finding our daughter.
—Susan Levy, 2002
Discovery of remains
Levy's remains were found in May 2002 at Rock Creek Park.
District of Columbia Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced on May 22, 2002, that remains matching Levy's dental records had been found by a man walking his dog and looking for turtles in Rock Creek Park. Though police had previously searched well over half the area of the 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) park, they later stated that they had not searched one particular area due to its remoteness. Levy's remains were found there, a mile (1.6 km) north of the Klingle Mansion and about four miles (6 km) from Levy's apartment. After a preliminary autopsy was performed, District of Columbia police announced that there was sufficient evidence to begin a homicide investigation. On May 28, the medical examiner officially declared Levy's death a homicide.
Arrest of suspected killer
Guandique was incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary, Victorville for previous assaults on women.
In September 2001, investigators interviewed Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran undocumented worker who had been previously convicted of assaulting two other women in the same park where Levy's remains were found. He was already serving time at the U.S. Penitentiary at Victorville, California for the earlier offenses. Guandique was reputedly part of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, but denied attacking Levy. Police chief Ramsey called him a "person of interest". On November 28, the Federal Bureau of Investigation administered a polygraph test, which Guandique failed. Another test, administered on February 4, 2002, returned inconclusive results.
The Levy homicide remained listed as a "cold case" until March 3, 2009, when the Superior Court of the District of Columbia issued an arrest warrant for Guandique. On Wednesday, April 22, 2009, Guandique was charged with Chandra Levy's murder. Guandique pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, where a trial date was set for January 27, 2010. Due to evidence processing errors, the start date at the Moultrie Courthouse was moved to October 4, 2010.
Trial of Guandique
Guandique was tried at the Moultrie Courthouse in Washington, D.C.
On October 18, 2010, jury selection commenced in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia before Judge Gerald Fisher. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez identified several potential witnesses for the trial, including an FBI agent and two women who Guandique was convicted of attacking in Rock Creek Park. At the start of the trial, the prosecution's case was expected to take four weeks and the defense was expected to take one day.
On November 1, 2010, Condit testified at the trial and was asked at least three times whether he had an intimate relationship with Levy. He replied, "I am not going to respond to that question out of privacy for myself and Chandra." An FBI biologist testified that sperm matching Condit's DNA profile was found on Levy's underwear.Prosecution witness Armando Morales testified that he was a cellmate of Guandique, who confided that he was concerned about violence against suspected rapists in prison. Morales stated that Guandique admitted killing Levy while trying to rob her, but said that he did not rape her. The prosecution rested their case on November 10, and dropped two of the six charges against Guandique: sexual assault and felony murder associated with that sexual assault. On November 15, the defense rested its case without calling Guandique to the stand. Other prison witnesses called by the defense refuted Morales' testimony. Jose Manuel Alaniz said that Guandique made no mention of rape or murder while sharing a cell with both Alaniz and Morales. The prosecution dropped two more charges because the statute of limitations had expired: attempted kidnapping and attempted robbery. During closing arguments for the two remaining charges of first degree murder, prosecutor Amanda Haines contended that Guandique bound and gagged Levy after attacking her, leaving her to die of dehydration or exposure in the park. Defense attorney Santha Sonenberg brought up the lack of DNA evidence connecting Guandique to the crime scene. She suggested that Levy was murdered elsewhere, with her dead body being dumped in the park.
The jury began deliberations on November 17, 2010. Scheduled proceedings of the case met delays because of increased security at the courthouse. On the third day of deliberations, the jury asked Judge Gerald Fisher to clarify the definition of assault. Fisher responded that any physical injury could legally be considered an assault, regardless of how small. On November 22, 2010, the jury found Guandique guilty of two counts of first degree murder. Guandique faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Criticism of media coverage
Missing white woman syndrome
The Levy case was the subject of a great deal of media coverage in the summer of 2001, especially on U.S. cable news networks such as MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. Following the September 11 attacks, media critics and the cable news executives themselves cited the Levy case, as well as the concurrent sensational coverage of a string of shark attacks, as being evidence of the media in action, as well as illustrating the manner of U.S. news coverage immediately preceding a major attack on the country. The media were criticized for their "rush to judgment" in suggesting, sometimes blatantly, that Condit was guilty of the murder, especially in the early days of the investigation. Some of the reporters camped in front of Condit's Washington apartment house were quoted as stating they would remain there "until he resigns."
In 2005, investigative journalist Dominick Dunne accused Condit on Larry King Live of withholding information about the Levy case. Condit filed lawsuits against Dunne, forcing him into an undisclosed financial settlement. However, U.S. District Judge Peter Leisure dismissed the suit that alleged slander in 2008, because "The context in which Dunne's statements were made demonstrates that they were part of a discussion about 'speculation' in the media and inaccurate media coverage."
In the summer of 2008, The Washington Post ran a 13-part series billed, in part, as "a tale of the tabloid and mainstream press pack journalism that helped derail the investigation." The two investigative reporters behind the Post series, Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz, wrote a book detailing their investigation. The book, Finding Chandra, was released in May 2010. Commentators, including The Washington Post Metro reporter Robert Pierre wrote that emphasis on a glamorous white murder victim, when "about 200 people are killed in this city every year, most of them black and male," was "absolutely absurd and dare I say, racist, at its core."