Fault Lines
18 November 2017

Who Killed Chandra Levy? Not Who The Jailhouse Snitch Said

August 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Jailhouse informants, slightly different from routine snitches, are one of the most unreliable sources of evidence available. Snitches routinely provide information on the criminal activities with which they are involved. Jailhouse informants, on the other hand, usually have nothing to do with activity they are reporting, but instead report a supposed confession or other confidence bestowed upon them by a fellow inmate.

Armando Morales, the government’s star witness in the homicide of Chandra Levy, lied on the witness stand. Shocker! And now prosecutors have dismissed charges against Ingmar Guandique after a retrial was granted.

Levy, a Capital Hill intern, disappeared in 2001. Her disappearance garnered national news when her romantic relationship with Congressman Gary Condit was revealed. Her body was later discovered in Washington D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. Condit was cleared as a suspect, and the case went cold for years until prosecutors charged Guandique based on some similarities in attacks he carried out against two women.

Guandique was charged in her death in 2009 just as he was close to completing a jail sentence for assaults on two joggers who had been attacked in Rock Creek Park. During the trial, prosecutors drew parallels to the two other women Guandique attacked at about the same time that Levy went missing.

Despite the similarities, there was no evidence linking Guandique to the crime scene. No direct evidence, but enter the jailhouse informant: Morales was serving time in a Kentucky jail with Guandique; they were cellmates. And that’s about as good as it gets. Morales came forward to say Guandique confessed his sins. Guandique had admitted killing Levy while supposedly trying to convince fellow inmates he was only a killer and not a rapist.

Specifically, Morales testified that Guandique confided to him: “Homeboy, I killed that b—-, but I didn’t rape her.”

But, just 5 years later, defense attorneys were back in court requesting a new trial based upon undisclosed information, including key impeachment evidence related to Morales:

During Guandique’s trial, Morales presented himself as a man unaccustomed to cooperating with law enforcement. His credibility, as well as questions about what Guandique’s prosecutors knew about him prior to putting him on the stand, now stand at the center of defense efforts to obtain a new trial.

Either unknown by the government or undisclosed at the time, Morales was quite the snitch. Though he testified he had never provided information to law enforcement, Morales had turned evidence and assisted the government on numerous occasions:

Bulldog Nation founder Armando Morales gave up his methamphetamine supplier, a federal agent testified. Morales wrote a 14-page history of his street gang, a spinoff rival to the older Fresno Bulldogs. He turned over numerous names, including the identities of his gang’s five-man ruling council.

“He provided a lot of information,” stated Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Colene Domenech.

Not only had Morales lied about providing information in the past, but also he lied about his motive to testify in this case.

[Defense attorneys] learned that he asked to be put into the witness protection program in exchange for his testimony, even though he testified he hadn’t sought any benefit for testifying.

After years of cooperation and incarceration, Morales wanted to enter the witness protection program. What better way to get there than to turn new evidence for the government? Certainly sounds like a motive to testify; a motive to lie if necessary.

To be clear, Morales’ background wasn’t the only information that was not disclosed to the defense prior to trial. According to the Washington Times:

In court filings and hearings over the course of the last several years, the public defender’s office has raised questions over evidence that prosecutors had during the trial but failed to disclose — including audiotape of a 911 call previously not made available to them about a “blood-curdling scream” heard in Levy’s apartment building the morning she disappeared.

Ultimately, Guandique was granted a new trial after prosecutors acknowledged a retrial was warranted. While awaiting the retrial, an interesting twist appears out of nowhere:

Meanwhile, as questions about Morales continued to grow, a woman named Babs Proller who met Morales by happenstance began recording her conversations with him, and turned them over to authorities earlier this month.

Now with Morales’ lies exposed and some happenstance, prosecutors have decided not to retry Guandique. While prosecutors won’t say whether or not the recordings played a role in their decision to dismiss, you can bet they were not helpful to the government’s case or the credibility of Morales. Helpful, incriminating evidence is always revealed. It’s the stuff they don’t reveal that you need to worry about.

Though defense attorneys challenged Morales’ testimony at the time of trial, jurors believed Morales. They usually do. It’s hard for jurors to overlook a supposed confession, even to a fellow inmate. Prosecutors know this. Informants know this. And it’s simply the informant’s word with nothing concrete to contradict him, as the “confession” is always in confidence with no other witnesses present.

As Radley Balko points out:

Most jailhouse snitches are lying. Informant testimony has become such a critical tool for prosecutors precisely because it allows them to put on testimony that is a) damning, b) easy to manufacture and c) allows b) to happen while giving them plausible deniability. This isn’t to say that all prosecutors manufacture evidence by using jailhouse informants. It is to say that the way informants are treated by the courts makes it very easy to do so.

Prosecutors are always quick to point out a defendant’s motive to lie when confronted with a defense to prosecution. They cite the accused’s criminal history: “he’s a felon; you expect me to believe what he says?” Yet, as soon as the informant, i.e. a felon, is helpful to the prosecution, he’s the most believable person in the courtroom. Prosecutors have no problem believing and using informant testimony when it suits their needs. And therein lies the danger. Informants lie, and there is no way to know which informant is lying and which is, perhaps, truthful.

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