A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Chandra Levy's mother will be allowed to attend the entire trial of the man accused of killing the federal intern, even though Susan Levy will likely be called as a witness.
Levy disappeared in 2001 and her remains were found a year later in Washington's Rock Creek Park. Defendant Ingmar Guandique has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other counts filed in Levy's death; his trial is scheduled to begin on Oct 18.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher said attorneys can cross-examine Susan Levy if they feel her testimony has been tainted by listening to the proceedings. Victims' rights attorneys had requested Susan Levy be able to attend as much of the trial as she wanted, although witnesses are often not allowed to observe other testimony.
Pauline Mandel, the legal services director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, said a related group had filed the legal request on behalf of Levy. Mandel said her organization strives to inform victims they have the right to request to be present for the trial's duration, even if being called as a witness.
"It really is up to the judge to make a final determination of whether a victim who's also a witness is allowed to be in the courtroom for the entire hearing or not," Mandel said. "It really depends."
Mandel said prosecutors occasionally turn to family members to provide testimony about the victim's routine or other components needed to make their case.
During the Friday hearing, the judge also shot down the prosecutors' attempt to present testimony from a witness they said would tell the jury that Guandique was seen carrying a knife in spring 2001. The judge told the attorneys the information was not specific enough to be relevant to the trial, after prosecutors said the witness could not pinpoint the date that the incident occurred.
Fisher also appeared skeptical of several witnesses the defense hopes to use at trial, telling Guandique's attorneys they should be specific about the expertise of their proposed witnesses. He punched holes in the qualifications of a Loyola Law School professor whom the defense plans to call as an expert on jailhouse "snitch" sociology. The judge questioned whether Professor Alexandra Natapoff had ever met with a person who'd acted as such an informant and how she acquired the knowledge to make her an expert.
Prosecutors said earlier this summer they may call as many as four people who have served prison sentences with Guandique to testify against him at his trial. Defense attorneys say they want Natapoff to testify about things such as an informant's expectation of rewards in exchange for testimony.
Fisher also questioned whether the defense's proposed use of an "eyewitness" expert to inform the jury about the limits of human memory would provide jurors with new information.
Maria Hawilo, one of two attorneys who represents Guandique, argued that people forget more quickly than they think they do, and most people think memory is "like a tape recorder or video recorder, but research has shown that's not true." She also said the defense would like the eyewitness expert to discuss the difficulty that people have identifying strangers of different races and how suggestive post-event information, such as a newspaper article, can affect a person's recollection of an incident.
Prosecutors acknowledged Friday that many mistakes were made during the initial investigation after Levy disappeared nearly a decade ago.
"I couldn't begin to explain to the court why things were done back in the day," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines said.
The case, which stumped investigators for years, has been blamed for destroying the political career of former U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California, who was romantically linked to Levy. Authorities questioned the Democrat, but he was never a suspect in her death.