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Case against man accused of Levy killing heads to jury

By Paul Courson, CNN
Chandra Levy's body was found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in 2002, more than a year after her disappearance.
Chandra Levy's body was found in Washington's Rock Creek Park in 2002, more than a year after her disappearance.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Jury to begin deliberations Wednesday morning
  • Ingmar Guandique faces felony first-degree murder charges in Levy's 2001 death
  • Defense stresses that all evidence against Guandique is circumstantial
  • He denies that he attacked Levy
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Washington (CNN) -- The case against the man charged with the 2001 killing of Washington intern Chandra Levy is in the hands of the jury, which received final instructions Tuesday afternoon and an order to begin deliberations Wednesday morning.

Earlier, attorneys made their closing arguments in the case against Ingmar Guandique, who denies he killed Levy, then an intern for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

"She's been waiting nine years for justice," said prosecutor Amanda Haines, holding up for the jury a poster-sized photograph of the smiling young woman. "It's been nine years, but you need to say the words 'Ingmar Guandique is guilty.'"

Levy's mother was in the spectators' gallery, and at times looked close to tears as prosecutors brought out her daughter's clothing, found at the crime scene in 2002.

Haines told the jury, "You have a roomful of corroboration" for the circumstantial case against Guandique.

That includes the fact Guandique is serving time for two other attacks on women that prosecutors say closely resemble the one that led to Levy's death, she said.

Both of those attack victims testified during the trial.

Haines also cited what she portrayed as confessions Guandique allegedly made to a cellmate as he served time for the other attacks, and remarks he allegedly made to a woman who was a pen pal. The prosecution's closing argument took nearly an hour.

Defense attorney Santha Sonenberg then followed the prosecution by hammering home the circumstantial nature of the case, including what prosecutors have acknowledged is a lack of DNA evidence, a lack of witnesses, and only secondhand accounts of alleged confessions Guandique made to the crime.

"The government has a lot of excuses," she began, "asking you to ignore" forensic evidence that she said was inconsistent as to whether her client committed the crime.

Sonenberg said certain evidence, such as the decomposition of body hair found in Levy's clothing, suggests she may have been killed at a location other than where her remains were found more than a year after she vanished.

"You have to wonder whether Ms. Levy's dead body was taken to Rock Creek Park after she died," Sonenberg said. She cited the testimony of an expert witness who said hair that's still on the body when a person dies decomposes differently from a loose hair that has fallen or was pulled from a living person.

The public defender also questioned why there was no damage to Levy's clothing, if there had been a struggle with Guandique as prosecutors had claimed. "At the time these clothes were taken off, Ms. Levy was already dead," Sonenberg said.

She also tried to raise doubts about information investigators found on Levy's laptop computer, asserting the unit would not have powered up if it had been left unplugged for the period of time between when she vanished and when police recovered the device from her apartment.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys began the day by negotiating the wording of the instructions the judge was to provide to the jury.

Only two counts remain from the original six-count indictment, and both sides confronted how to explain that the other counts have been dropped. On Monday, attempted kidnapping and attempted robbery charges against Guandique were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. Prosecutors previously asked the judge to drop felony sexual assault and associated murder charges due to the lack of physical evidence in the case.

Prosecutors were concerned the defense would try to suggest that there are broad weaknesses in the government's case because there now are fewer charges to consider.

Defense counsel said the jury was originally told to consider six counts, and now must be told why that has changed.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Guandique faces a sentence of life without parole. The jury could instead find him guilty of second-degree murder, which could mean 20 years to life.

Prosecutors argue that Guandique, a reputed member of the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha, attacked Levy while she was jogging in Washington's Rock Creek Park and then killed her when she began to scream.

Her body was found more than a year later by a man walking his dog in a wooded area of the park.

Levy's disappearance drew national attention after her parents discovered a connection with Gary Condit, who was then a sitting congressman. Condit was never a suspect in the case, but was questioned intensively for details about Levy's whereabouts.

He testified in the trial earlier this month but refused to address a question about whether he had sex with Levy.

"We've lost our feeling for common decency. I didn't commit any crime. I didn't do anything wrong," he said.

An FBI forensic expert later confirmed Condit's semen had been found in underwear retrieved from Levy's apartment in the days after her parents reported her missing.

Condit said several times during his testimony that the media frenzy surrounding Levy's disappearance was hard to handle, including a helicopter flight over his California home while his daughter and her friends were sunbathing at the family's pool. "They reported that I had young women in bikinis at my house," he said.

Prosecutors played two recordings Condit left on Levy's answering machine near the time of her disappearance. In one, he asks her for a "rundown on kind of what your schedule is." In the other, he says, "I haven't heard from you. Maybe you're out of the country, so give me a call."

Guandique's defense attorney challenged Condit on cross-examination, attempting to get him to admit that he lied during the investigation.

CNN's Kelly Marshall Smoot contributed to this report.