Chanel Lewis’ retrial begins

Stephon Johnson | 3/21/2019, midnight
Chanel Lewis finds himself back in court being retried for the murder of Karina Vetrano.
Chanell Lewis

Chanel Lewis finds himself back in court being retried for the murder of Karina Vetrano.

Lewis, 22, is accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Vetrano as she jogged near her Howard Beach home in August 2016. Lewis’ first trial in November ended with a hung jury.

Assistant Queens District Attorney Brad Leventhal outlined his belief that Lewis murdered Vetrano this week.

“This young woman, full of life, was merely 30 years old, when her life was stolen from her by the man who sits in this courtroom at that table over here. She was beaten, she was strangled, she was sexually abused by the defendant, Chanel Lewis,” stated Leventhal. “This is a crime of opportunity, this was a crime of random, senseless violence. Karina Vetrano is dead because she was unlucky enough and misfortunate enough to find herself in a secluded, isolated location with this defendant.”

In an emailed statement to the AmNews, The Legal Aid Society, Lewis’ legal representation, said that the saga of their client was already decided last year and this retrial rests only on the authorities’ ability to build a case that’s different from the last trial.

“Last November, the Court declared a mistrial on this case because the prosecution failed to move a deadlocked jury of local Queens residents to convict,” read the statement. “Throughout that trial, our defense team continually challenged the accuracy and the reliability of Mr. Lewis’ supposed statements that the police claimed to have collected, the reliability of the DNA evidence gathered at the crime scene, and other major points made by the prosecution.

“All of these are issues that the jury in this forthcoming trial must continue to scrutinize and we are confident that many of the prosecution’s questions will remain unanswered,” continued the statement. “As we enter this new trial, we want to remind the public that Mr. Lewis is presumed innocent. We will hold the prosecution to their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The prosecution plans on, once again, introducing DNA evidence linking Lewis to Vetrano’s murder. They said that Lewis’ DNA could be matched to the DNA found on Vetrano’s phone, neck and fingernails.

Vetrano’s mother, Cathie Vetrano and father, Phil Vetrano, both took the stand this week to testify and describe the feelings they had when they first found out their daughter was dead.

“I was screaming in the street. We grabbed each other, and we were just crying,” said Cathie.

“I let out a sound I never made before or since,” said Phil.

Lewis calls East New York home. He and his mother are constituents of New York State Assembly Member Charles Barron. Barron told the AmNews that he doesn’t believe that there should be a retrial and that Lewis’ acquittal should stand.

“A good number of jurors in the first case clearly said that the DNA evidence wasn’t sufficient enough,” said Barron. “They said the confession was coerced and there were a lot of inconsistencies in his version of his confession and what they coerced him to say down to the color of her shirt and her sweater.

The prosecution called three witness to the stand to start the trial: police officers who said Vetrano’s phone and body were guarded in the aftermath of the murder and that DNA evidence was transferred through the proper channels to the city medical examiner. All three officers didn’t testify in the first trial.

Barron suggests that while he feels sorry for Vetrano’s family that if there was enough evidence for a conviction, there wouldn’t be a second trial.

“This is a grave injustice being bestowed upon this family and I believe that this jury again will find that the evidence isn’t credible enough and shouldn’t be credible enough to have a conviction,” said Barron. “Since they couldn’t get a conviction based on facts, now they have the mother testify to try and get a conviction by way of sympathy. I hope that these jurors look at the facts of the case and judge it by the facts and they come up with either a hung jury or his innocence.

“He should be sent back home to his family,” concluded Barron.