Karina Vetrano murder case: Mistrial declared, prosecution to retry suspect Chanel Lewis

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Mistrial declared in Karina Vetrano murder case
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Tim Fleischer has the latest on the mistrial in the Karina Vetrano case.

KEW GARDENS, Queens (WABC) -- A judge declared a mistrial due late Tuesday in the murder trial of Chanel Lewis, the man accused of killing Karina Vetrano while she was out jogging in Queens.

Justice Michael Aloise declared the mistrial after the jurors were split, with seven voting guilty and five not guilty.

The Queens District Attorney's office said they will retry the case, and Lewis remains in custody. His next court date is January 22.

After only a day and a half of deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge saying they could not make progress one way or another and had exhausted all thoughts and opinions.

The defense asked for a mistrial, and prosecutors and the judge agreed, telling the stunned courtroom there was a hung jury.

Parents Cathie and Phil Vetrano left the courtroom with tears in their eyes, more than two years after the murder of their daughter, no closer to justice. They and the family's attorneys had no comment after leaving the courtroom, but defense attorneys spoke briefly with reporters.

"The jury is understanding that DNA is not all it, confession is not all it," defense attorney Jenny Cheung said. "There are issues in the case that you can all see that it is much more complex."

The developments came after the jury spent more than an hour Tuesday afternoon watching the last of two videotaped confessions from Lewis. Later, they asked for readbacks totaling 74 pages from testimony by the prosecution's DNA expert.

The jurors also requested to view the Vetrano autopsy photos.

"This case is far from conclusive, and the jury's deadlock proves this," the Legal Aid Society, which helped provide defense for Lewis, said in a statement. "The death of Karina Vetrano is tragic and our hearts go out to her family, but the rush to criminalize our client is not the answer nor is it justice."

Lewis was accused of killing the 30-year-old Vetrano as she ran in Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach in August 2016. Prosecutors said she had been sexually abused and strangled.

The 22-year-old pleaded not guilty to murder and sexual abuse charges.

During the seven day trial, the defense raised questions about the collection and testing of DNA evidence, as well as Lewis' interrogation and confession, which he claims was coerced.

In his taped confession, Lewis told police that he was upset with a neighbor and that when he came across Vetrano on a secluded section of a marshland park, he "just lost it." He said he beat and strangled her but did not molest her.

"This girl jogging...and you know, one thing led to another," he told detectives. "Hitting her and stuff like that."

His attorneys said the confession was wrongly obtained and should not have been admissible in the trial. They said he confessed only because he wanted to go home after waiting hours in an interrogation room.

Prosecutor Brad Leventhal also focused on the statements Lewis made to police.

"He was angry, and he took it out on Karina Vetrano," he said. "His words. His words...He is the man who strangled Karina Vetrano to death."

He also pointed to what he called strong DNA evidence. One expert testified that the DNA profile established from evidence collected from Vetrano's fingernails, her neck and cell phone matched Lewis' DNA profile.

Two NYPD detectives also testified about the painstaking effort to collect evidence in the case. At times, the pictures were so graphic that they caused Vetrano's parents to break down, even at one point leaving the courtroom.

Vetrano's father, Philip Vetrano, was the one who found his daughter's body during the search. His painful testimony described the horrifying ordeal.

Closing arguments were heard on Monday. before the jury began deliberating Lewis's fate.


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