Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)
Defense lawyers for the man convicted of killing congressional intern Chandra Levy filed court papers Tuesday asking for a new trial, claiming federal prosecutors knew—or should have known—a key witness gave false testimony.
A District of Columbia Superior Court jury found Ingmar Guandique guilty in 2010. At trial, one of Guandique’s former cellmates, Armando Morales, testified that Guandique confessed to the killing. Morales told the jury he had never come forward to law enforcement before, but Guandique’s lawyers contend that was a lie.
In the court papers filed Tuesday, Guandique’s lawyers pointed to evidence that Morales had a history of cooperating—evidence, they said, that wasn’t provided to the defense and could have changed the outcome of the trial.
“The government’s star witness, Armando Morales, provided testimony that was false in material aspects, and the prosecutors had evidence showing it to be false,” Jonathan Anderson of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia wrote.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, William Miller, called the allegations of wrongdoing by prosecutors “baseless.”
“A jury unanimously found Mr. Guandique guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the murder of Chandra Levy following a lengthy trial. The ongoing proceedings involve just one of numerous government witnesses who testified against Mr. Guandique, including other women whom Mr. Guandique stalked or violently attacked,” Miller said. “It is premature to cast doubt on Mr. Morales’ credibility before he has an opportunity to address the defense’s speculation and conjecture.”
The evidence at issue included the first page of a three-page letter another inmate wrote to a prosecutor in Florida alerting the government to information Morales might have on the Chandra Levy murder. The first page noted that Morales previously “debriefed to law enforcement” about his gang connections. That page was never provided to the defense, Guandique’s lawyers said.
Agencies and offices within the U.S. Department of Justice—the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons and a U.S. attorney’s office in California—had other information about Morales and his previous communications with law enforcement, Anderson wrote. Given Morales’ criminal history and the high-profile nature of the case—other jailhouse informants who claimed Guandique confessed “proved to be unreliable,” according to the new trial motion—prosecutors had a heightened duty to thoroughly investigate Morales, Anderson argued.
“With alarm bells ringing regarding Morales’s credibility, and arrow signs flashing in the direction of the FBI, the BOP, and the USAO-EDCA, the prosecutors should have sought the information theses agencies had regarding Morales,” Anderson wrote.
According to the new trial motion, Morales gave information to state and federal law enforcement throughout the 1990s. Guandique’s lawyers said Morales’ false testimony convinced the jury he was trustworthy and opened the door to other evidence about Guandique’s criminal history.
Defense lawyers also said Morales lied at trial about not asking for benefits in exchange for his testimony. Morales asked the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington for “witness protection.”
Miller said in his statement that Morales never asked for or received any benefit for his testimony.
If Guandique’s lawyers had been able to challenge Morales’ credibility at trial, Anderson wrote, it “would have been devastating to his credibility, and equally devastating to the government’s case.”
Guandique’s case was reopened in Superior Court in late 2012 after prosecutors notified the court about potentially impeaching evidence related to Morales. Judge Gerald Fisher is scheduled to hear arguments on the new trial motion in October.