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Judge strikes some potential jurors in Levy murder trial

By Paul Courson, CNN
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Chandra Levy trial begins
  • The man accused of Chandra Levy's murder is thought to be a Salvadoran gang member
  • Some potential jurors have said they could not be unbiased
  • Levy was linked to Rep. Gary Condit, who was questioned in the case

Washington (CNN) -- The judge in the Chandra Levy murder trial struck several potential jurors Wednesday because of their answers on a jury questionnaire.

The potential jurors are being considered to hear the case of Ingmar Guandique, who's charged in Levy's 2001 murder.

The suspect, a reputed member of the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. As on Monday, when the jury pool was initially called up, Guandique again wore a turtleneck shirt beneath a gray suit jacket. The high collar is thought to be a way to hide tattoos that could be interpreted as a gang affiliation.

Levy's disappearance nine years ago received widespread publicity because of her relationship with a sitting congressman. The revelation contributed to the political downfall of Rep. Gary Condit, who now is on the list of those who may be called to the witness stand. The California congressman lost in a 2002 Democratic primary and left at the end of his term.

Video: The decade-old mystery of Chandra Levy

Police said Condit was never a suspect in the case, although he was questioned intensively as investigators tried to find Levy, who vanished after a going-away party at the end of her federal internship at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Her remains were found more than a year later in a wooded area of Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.

Authorities believe Guandique attacked Levy, 24, as she jogged in the park, allegedly killing her when she began to scream.

Defense attorneys have questioned the police investigation, and on Monday, they wondered about a second man named in an FBI fingerprint memo prosecutors had just disclosed to Guandique's counsel.

In that memo, Guandique and the other man were cleared of any match in fingerprints lifted from a vehicle parked near the crime scene.

In court proceedings Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher struck a number of potential jurors without further questioning. They had provided unacceptable answers on a 55-question survey the jury pool filled out Monday.

"All gang members should be castrated," wrote a juror candidate identified only as #942. Fisher struck that person from the pool.

Another wrote of not being able to trust inmate witnesses who could be called to testify during this murder trial.

The judge also rejected a candidate prosecutors raised concerns about for what were described as "bizarre responses" that were negative toward Hispanics and illegal immigrants.

The others are being called in to further explain certain responses that could affect their ability to render a fair verdict.

But those discussions are not in open court. During the selection process, Guandique, in leg irons as well as handcuffs, sits behind closed doors with his attorneys and the prosecutors in the judge's jury deliberation room as each candidate comes through.

An interpreter relays the discussion to Guandique in his native Spanish.

Reporters in another room are allowed to listen to the discussions and selection decisions only over a closed-circuit audio channel. There is no video to illustrate body language, lines of sight or reactions as the judge leads the group through the questioning.

One candidate has described her concerns about the MS-13 gang, saying that she not only had heard of the gang, but that a friend of hers lived in the D.C. area and had talked of gunfire. She was questioned as to whether she could be free of bias during the trial.

The selection process will narrow the 56-member pool to 40 candidates. The court will then start filling the 16 seats in the jury box, with the defense and prosecution each allowed to strike as many as 10 candidates, until a panel is seated with 12 jurors and 4 alternates.

The judge's instructions and opening presentations in the trial are expected to begin Monday, unless the selection process is unexpectedly rapid, a court official said.