By Bill Parry
With the jury solidly deadlocked, a judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the case of Chanel Lewis, the 22-year-old Brooklyn man accused of killing Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano during a brutal assault in August 2016.
“The Queens District Attorney’s Office will retry the case,” a spokesman for Queens DA Richard Brown said in a statement released Nov. 21. “The next court date is Jan. 22, 2018.”
Deliberations took place for just over 13 hours when the jury informed Queens State Supreme Court Justice Michael Aloise on Nov. 20 that they were hopelessly split on whether Lewis guilty of the murder and sexual assault of Vetrano while she ran in Spring Creek Park, not far from her home.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re making progress,” the jury wrote to Aloise in a note quoted in The Associated Press. “We feel that we have exhausted all of our options.”
After Lewis’ defense attorneys requested a mistrial, Aloise granted the motion, saying “I’m inclined to believe them.” According to The Associated Press, Vetrano’s parents appeared stunned and refused to comment as they left the Kew Gardens courtroom.
During its deliberations, the jury asked to review DNA evidence that was found on the 30-year-old woman’s cell phone, under her fingernails and on her neck. They also wanted to see Lewis’ videotaped confessions in which he allegedly told detectives he strangled and beat Vetrano because he “just lost it” and beat and strangled Vetrano but did not molest her.
Lewis’ Legal Aid Society defense attorneys argued the videotaped confession was wrongly obtained and should not have been admissible in the trial.
Defense attorney Robert Moeller argued the case was built on circumstantial evidence arguing that the crime scene was corrupted and that the DNA evidence was suspect.
“As we have said since day one, this case is far from conclusive and the jury’s deadlock proves this,” the Legal Aid Society 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. We will continue to fight on behalf of Chanel Lewis at the retrial in January.”
Vetrano left her home on 84th Street for a run Aug. 2, 2016, at about 5:30 p.m. and never returned home. A search was initiated that evening, and her body was discovered among the tall reeds of Spring Creek Park near 161st Street and 78th Avenue.
The murder set off an extensive search for her killer that went on for six months without any solid leads. Detectives linked Lewis to the crime in February 2017 based on information from an NYPD lieutenant who had remembered seeing Lewis lurking near Spring Creek Park weeks before Vetrano was murdered.
Cops took Lewis into custody and obtained from him a DNA sample which was said to have matched genetic material found at the crime scene.
Lewis will remain in custody until his retrial. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Robert Pozarycki contributed to this report.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr