By Jeremy Hutcher
It may be hard to remember what life was like in the US prior to 9/11. I remember that summer before the start of 9th grade like it was yesterday. Well, actually, that’s a lie. But I do remember that in the weeks before 9/11, the People Magazine that my parents subscribed to covered only two stories: Aaliyah’s death in a tragic plane crash, and the mysterious disappearance of Chandra Levy.
Almost a decade later, Ingmar Guandique, a citizen of El Salvador, is on trial for Levy’s murder. On November 16, closing arguments were delivered. Levy was a 24-year-old intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the time of her disappearance, and suspicion quickly focused on then-Congressman Gary Condit, with whom she was rumored to be having an affair. After the attacks of 9/11, national news coverage of her disappearance quickly dissipated, but a year after she was first reported to be missing, her remains were found in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.
The case against Guandique appears to be based on purely circumstantial evidence. He was initially interviewed in September of 2001 because he had assaulted other women in the park, but he denied attacking Levy. In February of 2002, an FBI polygraph was inconclusive as to whether he had attacked Levy. It appeared that the case would remain unsolved until the D.C. Superior Court issued a warrant for his arrest.
While the trial has so far been noted nationally when Condit took the stand to deny a relationship with Levy, even in the face of physical evidence that he clearly had had a relationship with her, the effect of the trial on the District is noteworthy because of how little evidence there actually is against Guandique, and whether the initial focus on Condit may mean that Guandique may walk.
Vital to the prosecution’s case is Guandique’s ex-cellmate’s claim that Guandique had confessed to Levy’s murder. The defense has pointed out that cellmate confessions are incredibly unreliable, and that not a single shred of evidence connects Guandique to the crime. The informant even failed a lie detector test himself. Now that all the evidence has been presented, the real question is what piece of evidence finally drove the government to try Guandique for her murder. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines, who is trying the case, even acknowledged in her closing argument how little was known about her disappearance, and encouraged jurors that “it's best not to think about [how precisely Levy was attacked.]” By banking on circumstantial shreds of evidence to link Guandique for the crime, perhaps the case will soon be known not only for its ability to link us to a time before 9/11, but also for a case that may truly never be solved.