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Posted at 6:06 PM ET, 11/27/2010

'Miracle' conviction or one more mistake?

By Deirdre M. Enright and Matthew L. Engle, Charlottesville

It is hard to imagine a more hollow and unsatisfying conviction than that of Ingmar Guandique. Twice in 10 years, law enforcement has been hijacked by sensation.

Immediately after Chandra Levy’s disappearance, police ignored even the most basic principles of investigation and evidence preservation in favor of allowing themselves to be hypnotized by a sex scandal that turned out to be irrelevant. Years later, Post reporters exposed the negligent investigation and generated the theory of Mr. Guandique’s involvement. Law enforcement was entranced once more in search of the public illusion of solving the crime and vindicating its negligent investigation. Ironically, the shoddy investigation simultaneously left Guandique with little physical evidence with which to defend himself and invited prosecution based on the most dubious and desperate form of “evidence” — the testimony of Guandique’s cellmate, who was the linchpin of the prosecution’s case.

The fact that there was so little evidence that Guandique was responsible for Levy’s death may have been one reason that U.S. Attorney Amanda Haines and Levy’s mother called the verdict a “miracle.”

Largely due to the work of Innocence Projects, society now accepts that “miracles” like Guandique’s conviction often turn out to be cases of wrongful conviction. These cases routinely feature the same issues that appeared in Guandique’s case — a botched police investigation, prosecutorial tunnel vision, reliance on jailhouse informants and, perhaps, jurors who feel they owe a conviction to the victim or his or her family.

Last week’s coverage of the verdict in Guandique’s case illustrates the role the press also plays in propping up such irresponsible prosecutions: “Without any forensic evidence, prosecutors based their case on two primary pillars.” But there was forensic evidence — trace DNA from an unknown male discovered on a piece of Levy’s clothing — just none that supported the prosecution theory that Guandique is guilty. And the “pillars”? Those would be the five-time convicted felon and the use of other crimes with dissimilar motives to suggest that Guandique committed this one. In fact, there are no pillars in this house of cards.

It is shameful that the conviction of Guandique might, as The Post story stated, solidify Haines’s place as a top prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. As a prosecutor, Haines has a responsibility beyond getting convictions; she is charged with seeking justice. One of the many painful truths of the Levy murder is that, due to the initial and pervasive incompetence of law enforcement, we may never know how she died or who was involved.

The U.S. attorney’s office should not have prosecuted Guandique or invited a jury to convict him without first developing real evidence of guilt, particularly given law enforcement’s responsibility for destroying or failing to collect all the evidence.

The courtroom is no place for “miracles.” In the future, the DNA found on Chandra Levy’s clothing — determined not to have come from Guandique — may provide actual evidence that another perpetrator committed these crimes. Last week’s “miracle” conviction, however, will prove a formidable obstacle in following that evidence to the truth. In the meantime, prosecutors spent a lot of taxpayer dollars to obtain a conviction in which no one should have much confidence.

The authors direct the Innocence Project at University of Virginia School of Law.

By Deirdre M. Enright and Matthew L. Engle, Charlottesville  | November 27, 2010; 6:06 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., crime  
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Comments

With crimes like these no wonder there is a huge demand for Criminal Justice professionals get your professional criminal justice degree best place is "United Forensic College"

Posted by: doocypeter | November 28, 2010 2:49 AM | Report abuse

How can you solve like these horrible crimes? Get a degree in Criminal Justice from "United Forensic College" find more about the college online. you can help solving these crimes

Posted by: doocypeter | November 28, 2010 2:52 AM | Report abuse

This case is a poster child for the corruption of the American criminal justice system, to an even greater degree than noted by the authors of this reasoned analysis. The known facts about the wrongful convictions brought about by so-called jailhouse confessions and snitches is so overwhelming, no case should be brought on such evidence, much less a conviction. The idea that a murderer who has gotten away with his crime for years decides to bare all to a total stranger, a convicted fellow prisoner, is just plain ludicrous. The idea that a jailhouse informer who is under the total control of law enforcement agencies is capable of giving objective, reliable testimony outrageously perverts the legal justic system. A case built on such testimony is prima facie evidence that there is no case.

What's more, the prosecutors are well aware of these flaws, and chose to charge ahead regardless. This is a police and prosecutorial cover-up, plain and simple.

Posted by: tbarksdl | November 28, 2010 6:14 AM | Report abuse

What is even more questionable is the selective use of multiple jailhouse informants in this case. There were several – each with a different version of a confession. The informants that the prosecution relied upon for the “probable cause” leading to the defendant’s arrest were not the one used at trial – and the stories were no were near similar.

Posted by: JohnDrake1 | November 28, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

The “comments” about “United Forensic College” sum up the problems with the system really well. Obviously, the same people who would become interested in a “college” based on grammatically incorrect phrases strung together without punctuation should be intimately involved in proceedings that could end someone’s life. Keep up the great work guys.

Posted by: bpb3bg | November 28, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

While I'm Jewish, I am dismayed by this conviction, for all the reasons the authors have eloquently stated. Jewish law does not permit convicting a defendant of murder on the basis of circumstantial evidence, hearsay, or conjecture...even if all three are present. In the old days, Jewish jurisprudence required multiple eyewitnesses; nowadays, it would require, at the very least, evidence from DNA.

Posted by: PaulinMaryland | November 28, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I think it's important to note, as the authors do, that the problem isn't the absence of DNA evidence but the presence of DNA evidence that does not match Guandique. This is also another sad example of the disproportionate convictions rates that ensure ethnic minorities and individuals of relatively low socioeconomic status stand a much greater chance of conviction than white defendants and individuals of higher socioeconomic status.

Posted by: iconoclastik | November 28, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Do I "think" Guandique is guilty? Yeah. Would I vote to convict based on the evidence and testimony presented at trial, were I a juror? Hell no.

Would I tremble, irrespective of guilt or innocence, were I brought before such a tribunal by such a prosecution? Yew betcha.

A prosecution that is jettisoning charges midtrial and failing to call promised witnesses is not one that inspires confidence. Not a particularly noteworthy day for American jurisprudence.

Posted by: laboo | November 29, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

The MPD owes Condit an apology for ruining his life.

Posted by: jckdoors | November 29, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

jckdoors @ November 29, 2010 1:02 PM wrote "The MPD owes Condit an apology for ruining his life."

Not quite. Condit's lust ruined his life. He is nothing but another married man cheating on his wife.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | November 29, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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