Chandra Levy murder trial to begin at last

Jury selection began yesterday for the trial of an illegal immigrant from El Salvador that may finally answer a mystery haunting Washington DC for more than nine years: who killed Chandra Levy?

The story began on 1 May 2001, when the 24-year-old intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons left her flat in downtown Washington to go for a jog. But she never returned – and in the months that followed, her disappearance turned from a routine missing persons case into an international sensation.

It emerged that she had been having an affair with the congressman from her home-town district in central California, and he immediately became a suspect. But the congressman, Gary Condit, denied all involvement, and for a while the entire story was forgotten, as the September 11 terrorist attacks took over the headlines. But a year after Ms Levy vanished, a small part of the mystery was resolved. On 22 May 2002, a man searching for deer antlers and other animal bones in a remote area of Rock Creek Park, about four miles from her home, found parts of a human skeleton. The remains were quickly identified as those of the intern, and the case was declared a homicide.

However, the trail then went cold again. For five years the police explored every lead, but in vain. Mr Condit, who in 1992 was defeated in his bid for re-election to Congress, was formally exonerated as a suspect, and until March 2009 the Chandra Levy case appeared destined to remain unsolved.

In fact an obvious suspect existed all along, in the person of Ingmar Guandique, who had entered the US illegally in 2000 from El Salvador and moved to Washington, where he worked as a day labourer and belonged to a local gang.

He had been convicted of assaulting two other female joggers in the same park at about the same time as Chandra's murder, and was serving a 10-year sentence in a California prison when he was arrested and charged in the Levy case in April 2009. At his arraignment hearing Mr Guandique pleaded not guilty. Now, almost a decade after Chandra disappeared, his trial has started. The outcome is far from sure, even though authorities are convinced they have their man. There were no eyewitnesses to the Levy killing, nor any DNA evidence linking it to Mr Guandique, while no murder weapon has ever been found.

According to the Washington Post, the prosecution's case rests mainly on statements the accused made to fellow prisoners in his California prison, and on letters he wrote. But of direct circumstantial evidence there appears to be none. Mr Condit is expected to testify at the trial. But he is considered unlikely to throw much light on what happened in Ms Levy's final hours.

Even the opinions of her family are divided. Robert Levy, a 64-year-old oncologist, told the Post he was "pretty sure" that Mr Guandique killed his daughter. But Susan Levy, Chandra's mother, sounded far less certain. "I still have a lot of questions, and I don't know I'll ever get the answers," she said.

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