By Michael Doyle
---- — WASHINGTON — A new layer of secrecy enveloped the Chandra Levy murder mystery Monday, underscoring the crucial questions now confronting the court:
Who is the prosecution witness whose credibility is now in question?
Could the potential credibility problem undermine the November 2010 conviction of accused killer Ingmar Guandique?
And did prosecutors meet their obligations to share information with defense attorneys, who say the Salvadoran immigrant did not kill Levy on May 1, 2001, shortly before she was to return to her Modesto, Calif., home?
In the latest plot twist to be sealed from public view, attorneys for both sides on Monday convinced an appeals court to hold off while a trial judge sorts out key questions that could include whether Guandique gets a new trial based on new evidence. Though the District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ one-page decision staying Guandique’s pending appeal on other grounds was made public, the joint motion filed by defense attorneys and prosecutors was not.
But prosecutors and defense attorneys differ over secrecy. Prosecutors insist it would be dangerous to make public the information that has arisen concerning one of their witnesses.
“The possible disclosure of that information may create safety issues,” D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald I. Fisher declared at a Dec. 18 hearing.
So far, over the stated objection of a McClatchy Newspapers reporter, Fisher has overseen two sealed hearings and has suggested that a planned Feb. 7 hearing could be sealed as well. Citing the persistent secrecy, media organizations including McClatchy, Gannett and The Washington Post have joined in retaining attorneys with the WilmerHale law firm in hopes of opening up the proceedings.
Citing unnamed officials, the Post has reported that Guandique’s defense attorneys have formally requested a new trial.
“Mr. Guandique has repeatedly objected to Judge Fisher’s orders closing these proceedings as overly broad and legally unfounded,” Julia Leighton, general counsel for the D.C. Public Defenders Service, said in a statement Monday. “In light of the protective order currently in place, however, we cannot disclose whether specific pleadings may have been subsequently filed under seal.”