After deliberating for five hours, a Queens jury found Chanel Lewis guilty of murdering Karina Vetrano, a Queens woman who was killed during an evening jog in 2016. Vetrano's family cheered and applauded when the verdict was read in court on Monday night.
This was the second trial for Lewis, a Brooklyn resident, after an earlier trial ended in a hung jury and mistrial last November. Toward the end of this trial, the defense team received an anonymous letter written by someone claiming to be an NYPD police officer, claiming that the prosecution had withheld evidence and also limited DNA testing of potential suspects to only black men. Defense lawyers moved for a mistrial on Monday because of the letter, but the judge, Michael B. Aloise, dismissed the motion.
On August 2nd, 2016, Vetrano had been reported missing by her father, Phil Vetrano, after she failed to return to her Howard Beach home following a run. Hours later, while searching with police, Phil Vetrano found her body in Spring Creek Park. The 30-year-old had been strangled and sexually abused; her teeth were broken during the attack.
Police arrested Lewis in February of the following year, claiming DNA found under Vetrano's nails matched Lewis's. However, some experts question whether the DNA found can be considered a conclusive match to Lewis's.
Lewis's defense also pointed to the fact that their client had been held by the NYPD for 12 hours before giving a confession that conflicted with details of the crime—and during the confession, Lewis appeared to confuse the prosecutor with his own defense lawyer.
Yet the prosecution, who argued Lewis killed Vetrano as a "crime of opportunity," was able to persuade the jury to convict Lewis. Her father told reporters after the trial that he was thrilled: "Jubilation. Justice. Justice has been served."
WCBS 2 pointed out that during their deliberations the jury had asked to see Lewis's taped confession... but didn't end up viewing it:
In an interview with the Post
One important thing to note: Earlier after the closing arguments the jury had asked to see the video of Lewis’ confession again. But there was a technical problem with the audio/visual equipment in the courtroom. At that time, the judge sent them to dinner instead while the problem could be resolved.
However, after that dinner break the jury sent a note saying they no longer needed to watch the video and instead had their verdict.
, another juror said he felt pressured to convict (though he didn't specify why): "He seems like such a good kid. Did he really do this?... I kept thinking ‘How tall is Karina? How tall is Chanel?’ She looked pretty buff me to.”
"It is my hope that as this case draws to a close, it will give the family of the victim some closure and comfort knowing her killer will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars," Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan said.
However, another trial may be on the horizon. "We’re disappointed in the outcome and we believe Mr. Lewis has a lot of strong appeal issues, such as the denial of suppression and Brady hearings; late discovery, like in the case of the medical record disclosure in the middle of a retrial; and issues related to Mr. Lewis’ initial stop," one of the defense attorneys, Julia Burke, said to the Queens Daily Eagle.
And the Legal Aid Society strongly condemned the judge for rejecting the defense team's demand to investigate the allegations made in the anonymous letter: "We wholeheartedly disagree with Judge Aloise’s precipitous rejection of our request for a hearing to investigate potential Brady violations by the New York City Police Department and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office that could have well changed the outcome of the case. Exculpatory information was reported and confirmed that was never revealed to the defense and that could have exonerated Mr. Lewis, yet the court declined even to allow exploration of the issue. This is a complete miscarriage of justice. Judge Aloise also kept jurors for well over 12 hours — an unprecedented action — to extract a verdict. Our client did not receive a fair trial. We will appeal immediately to a court that can afford Mr. Lewis the fair review he has thus far been denied."