Prison snitch key to retrial for Chandra Levy killer

03/28/2014 3:24 PM

03/28/2014 3:24 PM

Significant mystery still surrounds the former Fresno gang leader whose compelling testimony helped secure the conviction of the man accused of killing Chandra Levy.

Attorneys are scrambling to find out more about the one-time Fresno Bulldog, Armando Morales, as they prepare for a newly scheduled October hearing that will determine whether the convicted man, Ingmar Guandique, gets a new trial.

“I think the government needs to continue the investigation,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher said Friday.

Guandique killed Levy in Washington’s Rock Creek Park on May 1, 2001 shortly before the 24-year-old former Bureau of Prisons intern was to return to her family’s Modesto, Calif., home, the jury agreed. Fisher subsequently sentenced Guandique to 60 years in prison.

The investigation into Morales, so far, has periodically frustrated both prosecutors and defense attorneys. A Morales file went missing, reportedly because it was mistakenly indexed under his first name. Federal Bureau of Prisons officials have repeatedly asserted they lacked certain documents, only to find them after persistent requests.

“It’s an imperfect, and very, very difficult process,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman acknowledged Friday. “The government cannot simply snap its fingers.”

Sometimes it appears that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.

Morales, for instance, once told Fresno County Sheriff’s Department detectives about drug trafficking at U.S. Penitentiary Atlanta, where he was incarcerated on weapons charges. The information was conveyed to Bureau of Prisons’ intelligence officials in Sacramento, but so far there’s no clear evidence that it had been sent along to Atlanta.

“You don’t have any information that this had any follow-up?” Fisher asked Justice Department attorneys Friday. “There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it went forward.”

Kevin Schwinn, chief of the Bureau of Prisons’ intelligence section, acknowledged Friday that he had “found no document to show (Morales) was a confidential informant” or that law enforcement had even used the information Morales provided.

Morales reportedly named two specific individuals as being involved in the Atlanta prison drug ring, but attorneys said Friday they had found no evidence either man had ever been charged.

“Does it seem odd to you that there is no other information about this?” Fisher asked.

Fisher oversaw the original trial in November 2010, which concluded with Guandique being found guilty of felony murder. The trial’s turning point occurred when Morales testified that Guandique had confessed to him while they were cellmates at a federal prison in Kentucky.

While testifying against Guandique, Morales had cast himself as someone unaccustomed to cooperating with law enforcement officials. The claim helped boost his credibility. But in late 2012, Justice Department officials say they learned for the first time that Morales had at least some prior record as a snitch.

As part of their pending request for a new trial, defense attorneys will argue prosecutors knew or should have known about the informant background of Morales, and that this information should have been shared with the defense. A hearing starting Oct. 14 will include witnesses and arguments.

Even the extended hearing, though, may not be able to answer every lingering questions.

Morales, for instance, was moved from an out-of-state prison to U.S. Penitentiary Atwater for four months in 2006, a court hearing revealed Friday. No public explanation has yet been offered for the uncharacteristic move, though Guandique’s attorneys have noted that the temporary relocation enabled Morales to see his mother during weekly visits.

“That’s a possible benefit for a person who’s served as an informant,” defense attorney Jonathan Anderson noted Friday.

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