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Chandra Levy suspect pleads not guilty; January trial set

WASHINGTON — Ingmar Guandique pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he'd sexually assaulted and killed former intern Chandra Levy.

In a brief but eventful court appearance, the manacled Guandique spoke but one audible word — "si" — as prosecutors and defense attorneys wrangled over dates and procedures. Everyone spoke sharply at one point or another, including the judge.

"I understand there will be a lot of machinations in this case," said District of Columbia Superior Court Associate Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin, before cautioning Guandique's attorney Santha Sonenberg to "not make a speech."

Over the objections of Sonenberg, who wanted more time, Alprin set a trial date of Jan. 27. Alprin estimated that Guandique's trial will take about two weeks, although further surprises seem all but certain.

In the latest unusual twist for a case that's already had more than its share, Alprin said that Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield of the Superior Court had received a letter from a woman "who says she has information on the case." Alprin delivered copies of the letter to attorneys but didn't otherwise make it public.

Raised in Modesto, Calif., where her parents still live, the 24-year-old Levy was last seen alive on April 30, 2001. At the time, she was finishing a graduate program at the University of Southern California that included a federal Bureau of Prisons internship in Washington. Her disappearance eventually brought to light the fact that she'd been involved in a relationship with then-U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., whose political career subsequently collapsed.

Levy's skeletal remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in May 2002. The murder case went cold before investigators charged Guandique with the crime this year. Relying on circumstantial evidence that includes the testimony of several jailhouse informants, prosecutors obtained a six-count indictment against the illegal Salvadoran immigrant.

The charges include murder, attempted sexual assault and kidnapping. No additional evidence was presented during the 15-minute arraignment Wednesday morning.

"An indictment is the result of a one-sided process that happens behind closed doors, without any defense attorneys present," Sonenberg and fellow federal public defender Maria Hawilo declared after the hearing. "Eventually, when 12 fair-minded jurors hear the prosecution's witnesses challenged, they will find (the case) to be false and deficient."

Most of the seats in the third-floor courtroom were filled for the hearing. The 27-year-old Guandique stood throughout, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit and flanked by his attorneys. A court security officer stood directly behind him. Guandique wore a headset so he could listen to a translator.

On Guandique's behalf, Sonenberg and Hawilo are casting a wide net that includes subpoenaing copies of past television news reports about Levy's murder. The attorneys also filed formal requests on April 23 for evidence held by prosecutors.

"To date, we have received nothing," Sonenberg said Wednesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez responded that "there is a substantial amount of discovery that will take place" before the trial.

He urged the judge to set a trial date of early next year "so that we can start getting ready for it."

Though Sonenberg resisted, noting that "the government has had this case since 2001," a stern-sounding Alprin went ahead with setting a trial date eight months hence.


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