Updated at 4:39 p.m.
Federal prosecutors are again under fire for their handling of evidence in a high-profile case, with defense lawyers saying they never received critical evidence about a prosecution witness in the Chandra Levy murder case.
After months of sealed proceedings, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher today revealed the subject of recent post-conviction hearings for the first time in open court: the existence of information about a prosecution witness' history of cooperating with law enforcement. The information was not disclosed to defense lawyers before trial.
Lawyers for Ingmar Guandique, the man convicted of killing Levy, a former congressional intern, have said the new information is proof Guandique's conviction was "predicated on a lie." The attorneys spent much of today's hearing pushing for disclosure of more evidence about the witness, Armando Morales, particularly the extent of his previous attempts to serve as a government informant.
"Armando Morales lied to the jury in this case and the Department of Justice had the proof of those lies, both before and during the trial," Guandique's lawyer, Jonathan Anderson of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, said following today's hearing. Anderson noted in court that Morales testified at trial he had never come forward to law enforcement before.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman, responding to claims about the importance of the new information about Morales, argued in court that Morales was one of several witnesses who were part of the government's "strong" case against Guandique. He disputed defense lawyers' characterization of the evidence and its importance.
The U.S. attorney's office released a statement this afternoon saying Morales never asked for or received any benefits for testifying against Guandique and that it was "premature to cast doubt" on his credibility. Besides Morales, the office noted three other women stalked or attacked by Guandique also testified at trial.
"Regarding the conduct of the veteran prosecutors in this case, we will respond to the defendant’s baseless allegations and inflammatory rhetoric as this matter continues to move through the Court," the office said.
Absent physical evidence tying Guandique to Levy's murder, witness testimony featured prominently at trial. Morales shared a prison cell with Guandique and testified Guandique confessed to killing Levy. A Superior Court jury convicted Guandique in 2010.
Fisher revealed today that in early 2012, prosecutors learned Morales previously provided information to law enforcement about violent crimes, and that this information wasn't disclosed to Guandique's lawyers. Fisher didn't specify how prosecutors learned about the new information.
Once the case was reopened, Anderson said Guandique's lawyers received several pieces of information about Morales they didn't have at trial, including his cooperation with a gang unit at the U.S. federal prison in Atlanta and the existence of forms in Morales' prison file indicating he served or tried to serve as an informant. Anderson asked for more documents from federal prison records about Morales' communications with law enforcement; Guandique's lawyers asked for Morales' prison file at trial, Anderson said, but Fisher denied the request.
Anderson said Guandique's lawyers never received the first page of a three-page letter originally alerting prosecutors to Morales' existence as a possible informant against Guandique. The first page of the letter, written by inmate Miguel Zaldivar, indicated Morales had cooperated with the government in the past, Anderson said. At trial, Anderson said Guandique's lawyers asked for the first page but never received a response.
Guandique's lawyers also asked for evidence on Morales' possible past drug use; the chief trial prosecutor's notes from a meeting with Morales; FBI records; and forms Anderson said were missing from Morales' federal prison file detailing each time he entered or was transferred to another prison.
Gorman said the government was working on requesting additional information from prison officials and responding to some of Anderson's other requests. He insisted, however, that prosecutors did give Guandique's lawyers Zaldivar's full letter as part of Morales' grand jury testimony.
Guandique's lawyers are preparing to file a motion for a new trial, at which time Fisher would hold a hearing and likely weigh the new information related to Morales.
At hearings earlier this year, Guandique's lawyers said the new information "drastically undercut" the government's case, according to redacted transcripts. They compared the situation to the controversy surrounding the botched prosecution of Ted Stevens, the late Alaska senator. A special prosecutor found prosecutors concealed favorable evidence in the Stevens case. During today's hearing, Anderson asked the government for evidence on what information prosecutors had about Morales during the trial.
Anderson also accused prosecutors of engaging in a pattern of filing documents at the last minute, saying the government submitted a brief after 7 p.m. last night that defense lawyers believed required a response right away.
Fisher said he would schedule another status hearing within the next 60 days. Transcripts, pleadings and other information on proceedings since the government's disclosure last fall remains under seal or redacted. Fisher set deadlines for the government to review that information with the goal of releasing it to the public in the near future.