A week after a jury found her son, Chanel Lewis, guilty of killing a Queens woman, Veta Lewis has spoken publicly about the verdict. "He's not a monster as they as they want the world to know. He's a God-fearing, loving kind person," she told Nightline.
Chanel Lewis, 22, was convicted of murdering Karina Vetrano, a 30-year-old speech therapist who went missing while jogging in Howard Beach on August 2nd, 2016. Her father, Phil Vetrano, reported her missing that night and, while helping the NYPD search the neighborhood, he discovered her body in Spring Creek Park.
An autopsy determined that she had been sexually abused and strangled, and, six months later, police arrested Lewis, then 20. Authorities claimed DNA evidence connected Lewis to the crime scene, but the DNA technique used by investigators is considered by some experts to be controversial and inconclusive. Lewis did confess to the crime—but only after being held by police for 12 hours. His defense also pointed out that his statements that weren't consistent with the murder, and, at one point during the confession, Lewis apparently confused a prosecutor for his own lawyer.
An earlier trial ended in a mistrial with a hung jury. Just before the second trial's close, an anonymous letter purportedly from a police officer, was sent to Lewis's defense team, stating that the NYPD murder probe was racially motivated, with investigators initially looking for white suspects but then shifting focus to gather DNA evidence from only black men.
The judge dismissed a motion for a mistrial, and Vetrano's family and friends cheered when the jury announced the guilty verdict. Lewis's attorneys say they will appeal the case, and his mother reiterated that she believes her son is innocent.
"My son is respectable, considerate...he was raised to respect others," Veta Lewis said to Nightline.
She also explained why her son was in the predominantly white neighborhood of Howard Beach. "Chanel said Howard Beach is a peaceful place to go to. He went there to go to Subway and KFC," she said. "I love the pizza from there, he brings it home to me."
But Lewis's appearance in Howard Beach drew suspicion from the neighborhood's predominantly white residents. Two residents did call the police after seeing him there, with one 911 call noting, "Right now, he's sitting on the curb. He doesn't belong there."
A juror for the second trial felt the deliberations had been rushed, telling the Queens Daily Eagle, "It was crazy how fast it went," and that the foreman "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.”
The juror also expressed some reservations, "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 Queens DA's office told Nightline, "We can understand why a mother can't or won't accept the reality of the horrific crime committed by her son, but that doesn't change the facts. Chanel Lewis was justly found to be guilty and another mother received the justice she deserves."
Chanel Lewis is expected to be sentenced on April 17th. He faces a maximum sentence of life without parole.