The man convicted in the 2001 slaying of Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy may get a new trial after federal prosecutors on Friday withdrew their opposition, citing defense concerns over a government witness, officials said.
The move sets the stage for a second murder trial for Ingmar Guandique, who was convicted in 2010 of killing Levy while she was running through Rock Creek Park in the nation's capital nine years earlier.
"We remain firm in our conviction that the jury’s verdict was correct and are preparing for a new trial to ensure that Mr. Guandique is held accountable," the U.S. attorney's office in Washington said in a statement.
Much of the prosecution's case relied on testimony from Armando Morales, Guandique's former cellmate. Morales said Guandique confessed to killing Levy, but contended he did not sexually assault her.
Levy was nearing the end of an internship at the federal Bureau of Prisons and was planning to return to her hometown of Modesto, Calif., when she vanished in May of 2001. One year later, skeletal remains belonging to the 24-year-old were discovered in the park.
Levy's disappearance and death gained national attention after investigators discovered she was having an affair with then-Rep. Gary Condit. The California Democrat was married at the time, and was not forthcoming with police about the circumstances of the tryst.
Although news of Condit's link to Levy led to speculation that he was somehow involved with her death, he was never declared a suspect. In 2002, he lost a bid for reelection.
Guandique, 29, a Salvadoran immigrant who was in the country illegally, was charged in Levy's slaying in 2009. Prosecutors said Guandique killed Levy after attempting to sexually assault her while she was running on a remote trail in Rock Creek Park.
Guandique was already serving a 10-year prison sentence when he was charged with Levy's murder. Police said Guandique had assaulted two other women at knifepoint in the same park around the same time that Levy vanished. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison after he was convicted in Levy's slaying.
There was no DNA evidence linking Guandique to the attack nor were there independent witnesses. Prosecutors also acknowledged at the time that police bungled the initial search and lost nearly all of the forensic evidence at the scene. Levy's death was ruled a homicide, and an autopsy revealed she suffered a severely fractured skull, but medical examiners were never able to determine how she died.
Federal prosecutors filed their motion Friday, just days before a judge was to hear arguments calling for a retrial.
In their filing, prosecutors said they became aware of "potential issues" with Morales roughly one year after Guandique was sentenced.
Fresno police contacted the U.S. attorney's office in 2012 because they were trying to locate Morales and had discovered transcripts of two interviews between investigators from the Fresno Sheriff's Office and Morales that were conducted in June of 1998, according to the motion. At that time, Morales was incarcerated in federal prison in Atlanta.
Federal prosecutors "began an extensive examination of the potential issues" raised by the contents of the transcripts, and at a judge's direction, turned that information over to Guandique, according to the filing.
"The government continues to believe that the jury's verdict was correct," prosecutors wrote in their filing Friday. "The government also believes that nothing in the thousands of pages of information that have been produced about Mr. Morales ... casts doubt on the defendant's guilt of the murder of Chandra Levy."
Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news