Testimony begins in Levy case
Update, 1:10 p.m.:
Opening statements are complete and testimony has begun.
One of the women attacked by Ingmar Guandique in Rock Creek Park in 2001 took the witness stand Monday afternoon to recount her harrowing encounter with the man on trial and charged with murder in the death of Chandra Levy.
Halle Shilling, who now lives in Southern California, struggled at first to remain composed on the stand as Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines began questioning her.
With the courtroom silent, Shilling walked the jury through the beginning of her jog from near Pierce Mill, explaining how she noticed a man watching her as she set off on a secluded trail.
"He was creepy," she said. "He was watching me. His head tracked me as I ran by."
But then she forgot about him. When what she thought was another runner turned up behind her, she became self-conscious about her pace and finally decided to let him pass.
But when she slowed down, she was set upon.
"I felt an incredible thud as he jumped onto my back," she said. "I tried to turn around. I screamed 'No.' I screamed 'No,' over and over again."
Asked by Haines how loud she screamed, Shilling said, "I screamed as loud as I knew how to scream."
When she was finally able to turn around, she saw a face she immediately recognized.
"It was the man who had been sitting on the curb," she said. "I saw the face, I saw the hair."
It dawned on her how in danger she was, she said. She was in a remote part of the park, shrouded behind full trees, and the sounds of the creek and passing traffic drowned out her cries.
"At that point, I realized that I was in a very remote part of the park," she said. "I knew that no one could hear, no one could hear me."
So she fought.
She was 30 at the time. Se is 5-foot-10 and about 160 pounds. She was taller and heavier than her assailant. But he was stronger, she said.
"I was fighting him off of me," she said. As they struggled, Guandique tried to quiet her, she said. "He was saying 'shhh' over and over again."
And then, she said, she saw a knife -- silver with a black handle, four or five inches long. "When I saw the knife I fought harder, because I was, I was scared."
In an instant, they fell to the ground. After a moment of panic, lessons from a long-ago self defense class came rushing back, she said. Her feet, clad in soft running shoes, were not ideal weapons. So she opted for another tactic. "I shoved my hand into his mouth and I clenched my hand and scratched and squeezed as hard as I could."
Guandique bit her hard, she said. "It broke the skin, but it didn't matter. I didn't feel anything."
Then it stopped, she said. "He froze," she said. And then he ran.
It had all lasted a minute or two, she said.
She ran in the other direction and soon encountered two other joggers, who took her to the police.
After a brief cross-examination by the defense, which raised the issue the amount of time since the attack, prosecutor Haines asked if she had any difficulty recalling the events of almost a decade ago.
"No," she said, starting to cry, "I don't."
Guandique was convicted of the attack on Shilling.
Opening statements in the trial of the man accused of killing Chandra Levy nearly a decade ago in Rock Creek Park began Monday morning in D.C. Superior Court.
With the jury of 12 women and four men listening, in a courtroom packed to capacity, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines wasted no time in linking defendant Ingmar Guandique to other Rock Creek Park attacks and those attacks to to the May 1, 2001, disappearance of Levy who prosecutors say ventured into the park never to be heard from again.
"Who is the face in the shadows? Who is following her," Haines said. "This man, Ingmar Guandique."
Maria Hawilo, one of Guandique's defense attorneys, attacked the government's case in the defense's opening statement, saying it is built on assumptions about his past and the word of informants in search of deals.
Hawilo said Guandique is not guilty.
"Nothing that happens during this trial will prove that he is," Hawilo said in a statement that was pointed and brief.
Evidence of the other attacks is expected to be central to the government's case and Haines said the jury would hear from the other victims.
Halle Shilling, who was attacked in the park two weeks after Levy disappeared, is to testify today, Haines said, and will recall her harrowing attack.
"She screamed as loud as she could, 'help me, somebody please help me, " Haines told the jury.
Hawilo said Levy's death was tragic, but that Guandique had nothing to do with it.
"He did not rob her. He did not rape her. He did not kill her. "
"What you have just heard is the government's theory, but it's just that - a theory."
As expected, Hawilo gave a brief catalog of the police errors that plagued the investigation into Levy's death, among them the failure to enlist cadaver dogs in the search for Levy's body.
"Ladies and gentlemen, after all the missteps, after all the mistakes, they want to say they have the right man," Hawilo said.
"They can't fix the failures, they can't undo their mistakes
More than once in her opening statement, she referred to the lack of physical evidence linking Guandique and more than once she assailed the credibility of the jailhouse informants who are expected to testify for the government.
Hawilo acknowledged Guandique's other crimes, but said the jury not assume that that makes him guilty in Levy's death.
-- Henri Cauvin
(This post has been updated.)
Washington Post editors
| October 25, 2010; 1:15 PM ET
Categories: Chandra Levy, From the Courthouse, Homicide, The District
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