Court documents filed by Chanel Lewis's defense team claim that at least three members of the jury who voted to convict the 22-year-old for murder and sexual abuse earlier this month acted improperly.
Lewis was convicted of murdering and sexually assaulting Karina Vetrano, a 30-year-old speech therapist who was killed in 2016. Lewis's first November 2018 trial ended in mistrial with a hung jury, after his defense team argued that Lewis was coerced into giving a confession.
Lewis was scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, but the sentencing was postponed after his attorneys filed a motion alleging juror misconduct. The Queens Daily Eagle obtained the affidavit and motion, which describes how one juror, the foreman, allegedly said he thought Lewis was guilty early on in the trial, before deliberations: "Well I have my mind made up, and I hope you do too."
The behavior of two other jurors was cited. From the Queens Daily Eagle:
Two other jurors, labeled Juror C and Juror D, injected special knowledge into deliberations and pressured their peers based on their previous experiences, Juror A said. Each claim could constitute misconduct.
Juror C had previously served on the jury of a rape trial and Juror D said she was a victim of sexual assault, the juror said in the affidavit. Both Juror C and Juror D applied information from those experiences to the case in order to find Lewis guilty of sexual abuse and pressured fellow jurors to do the same, Juror A said.
Juror A said he did not think the prosecution made a strong case for the sexual abuse charge. The first-degree murder charge hinged on whether Lewis was found guilty of sexual abuse. (A juror who reached out to the Eagle the day after sentencing described similar issues in an exclusive interview. The affidavit is redacted and thus the Eagle cannot confirm whether it is the same juror.)
Lead prosecutor Brad Leventhal told the jury during trial that Lewis “had his way” with Vetrano after strangling her and that Lewis had inserted his fingers into Vetrano’s vagina and anus. But Juror A questioned why Lewis’ DNA was not found on Vetrano’s vagina or anus, according to the affidavit.
Juror D, the alleged rape survivor, responded that the vagina acts “like a sponge or vacuum” and “had absorbed the male DNA,” according to the affidavit.
“You’re just a man, I’ve been raped,” Juror D allegedly said, according to Juror A’s affidavit.
Juror C said, “This is what the body looked like in my prior case, that guy was guilty of rape,” according to the affidavit.
The Queens District Attorney's office say the juror misconduct allegations are without merit.
Before the end of the trial, the defense received a letter from a person claiming to be a police officer. The letter contained accusations that the investigation was racially motivated, including how the police were initially looking for two white suspects in the case, until the department began a large DNA dragnet of black men in Queens.
The DNA evidence used to link Lewis to the crime scene is considered by some experts to be misleading and inconclusive.
A hearing for the motion is scheduled for Monday. There are very strong links between the Queens DA's office and the Queens court. New York Law Journal reporter Colby Hamilton told WNYC, "Here in Queens, you have a system that's been in place three decades, going through some of the most horrific time periods of crime in the city in recent memory. And there's a concern that some of the practices that animated that office and the judges...they still have a part of themselves that is part of that culture that people now are looking at and saying 'that's old. That's out of step with a more fair and more just criminal justice system.'"