Chanel Lewis gave his first interview after being convicted of killing Karin Vetrano, a Queens woman who was murdered during a jog in 2017. During a jailhouse interview on Tuesday, the 22-year-old told the Daily News, "We’re going to appeal the process. I’m going to let my lawyers handle that."
Vetrano, a 30-year-old speech therapist, had gone for a jog in Howard Beach on August 2nd, 2017. When she didn't return home, her father reported her missing and, with police officers joining a search, found her body in Spring Creek Park. An autopsy determined that she had been sexually abused and strangled.
Six months later, police arrested Lewis, then 20, claiming DNA evidence linked him to the crime scene. However, the DNA technique used is considered controversial and inconclusive. And Lewis's defense team argued that his confession was made after being held by police for 12 hours, that he made statements that weren't consistent with the murder, and that at one point he thought a prosecutor was his own lawyer.
The first trial ended in a mistrial, with a hung jury, last November. This time around, the jury found Lewis guilty after five hours of deliberations, and one juror has admitted to feeling pressured into convicting him.
The male juror, who remained anonymous in an interview with the Queens Daily Eagle, said "he still thought Lewis committed the murder but had misgivings about the investigation and the sex abuse charge on which the first-degree murder charge was predicated." He reflected, "So, did he murder her? He probably did. But if this comes out in 10-30 years that we sent an innocent man to jail, especially a person of color, I would feel awful. That’s my only worry.”
The juror raised questions about how the judge, Michael Aloise, handled the jury:
“The judge wanted it done last night,” the juror said, adding that Aloise was respectful of the jury throughout the trial. “It was crazy how fast it went.”
The juror said Aloise and court staff did not do anything to explicitly encourage the jury to rush a verdict, but that other jurors began pressuring him to come around on the sex abuse charge because they wanted to go home.
“Let’s be real,” the juror said. “12 hours inside that building. We were told to take as long as we want. We were told the building closes at 9:45 but we can stay as long as we want.”
The juror told the Eagle that he and a few other jurors wanted to review the videotaped confessions that Lewis gave to police and prosecutors the morning after his arrest, but they were prevented by technological problems at the courthouse.
“Shit happens, but really?” he said. “We were told we can view any evidence and somehow your computers break.”
The juror also expressed his frustration with the foreman, who seemed to be in a rush to reach a verdict, "He kept saying ‘I want to do the right thing.’ Funny how you want to do the right thing but are very quick to get out.”
"This may come as a shock but I was the only white person that didn’t rush to find him guilty," the juror told the Queens Daily Eagle. "I don’t want to say it was because he was black. But that might have been a factor but I can’t read into people’s heads."
Phil Vetrano, Vetrano's father, told reporters, "It feels like a weight has been lifted. I woke up with a different feeling. There’s no more of that, ‘OK, now we got to put him away.' Now it’s done," while her mother, Cathie, had a message for jurors, "As a representative of my daughter … I thank the jurors. From the bottom of our souls and hearts, I thank them. Today is a day where grieving can begin for me — the mother."
She also feels the verdict was correct, "No matter what anyone says, Chanel Lewis is the person who did this to my daughter. No question about it."
In the final days of the trial, a letter was sent to the defense team, suggesting that the police had originally been looking for two white suspects, but then focused on black men after receiving DNA phenotype information, which is a process some experts feels is problematic.
Lewis did not mention Vetrano or her family in the Daily News interview; he just said, "I’m focused on my family. They’re trying to hang in there.”