A Queens judge sentenced Chanel Lewis to life in prison without the possibility of parole this morning. The decision comes one day after judge Michael Aloise denied Lewis's attorneys' motion to dismiss the jury's verdict.
According to the Queens Daily Eagle, Aloise told Lewis that he hoped he would ask for God's forgiveness for the crime. "But when you do do it, it’ll be in a cage. That’s a guarantee," Aloise said.
"I'm sorry for the family's loss, but I didn't do this," Lewis said in court.
The Legal Aid Society, whose attorneys are representing Lewis, said in a statement that they will appeal the case.
“While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano’s death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case—from the police investigation to jury deliberations—was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs," the group said the statement. "This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis’s Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial."
Last week, Lewis's originally scheduled sentencing was postponed after claims of juror misconduct, including one juror saying he made up his mind before deliberations and another using knowledge from a prior rape trial. On Monday, Aloise dismissed the defense team's request to set aside the verdict, allowing sentencing to proceed.
Towards the end of the second trial, the defense received an anonymous letter from a person claiming to be an NYPD officer. The writer accused the investigation of being racially motivated and alleged that police initially looked for two white suspects in the case, until the department began a large DNA dragnet of black men in Queens.
Vetrano, a 30-year-old speech therapist, went missing during an August 2016 run in her neighborhood of Howard Beach. Alarmed when she didn't return, her father, Phil Vetrano, reported her missing—and, while searching with police hours later, found his daughter's body in Spring Creek Park. Authorities say she was strangled and sexually assaulted.
Lewis's defense team has maintained that the 22-year-old's confessions—which were taken when he was 20—had been coerced after being held in custody for 12 hours. In video of the confessions, Lewis also appears confused, mistaking the prosecutor for his own lawyer. His lawyers have also contended that the DNA technique linked him to DNA found at the crime scene is misleading and inconclusive.
"Today, everybody got justice," Phil Vetrano told reporters after Tuesday's verdict was handed down, according to NBC New York. "Karina got justice and the murderer got his justice."
Veta Lewis, Chanel's mother, told reporters, "I am a mother. I feel the Vetrano pain, because they lost their daughter. But I too lost a son. And my son is not the killer."