Who killed Karina Vetrano? Calls to reopen case of NY jogger who was raped and killed in 2016
In April 2019, Chanel Lewis was sentenced to life without parole for the rape and strangulation of 30-year-old New York City jogger Karina Vetrano. The murder and sexual assault had taken place in Howard Beach, NYC, three years prior, when Lewis was around 19-years-old. Vetrano was reportedly attacked, sexually abused, and eventually killed by Lewis while she had gone for a run in Spring Creek Park. The case created waves in national media and eventually suspect Chanel Lewis was pronounced guilty after finding DNA evidence links.
However, now more than 40,000 people have signed an online petition addressed to the Queens District Attorney's Office — where they are demanding a re-examination of Lewis' conviction. According to the petition, Lewis is 'intellectually disabled', and his trial also had several unresolved issues. Started by an individual named Mo Glover on 'Organize For', the petition urges reopening of the case, with the belief that the probe might have “a credible claim of actual innocence or other wrongful conviction." Among other pointers, the petition further alleges that there were "concerns over the use of racial profiling in Lewis’ initial arrest."
Chanel R. Lewis was first arrested in February 2017 as a suspect and later charged with one count of second-degree murder. He hailed from a low-income family in East New York, where he lived with his mother, three sisters, and their children. Despite having no criminal record, the unemployed 20-year-old was taken into custody based on his comments about hating girls and wanting to "stab all the girls". In fact, he had been taken into custody several times in the past but was always judged as mentally unstable and a loner. He had had run-ins with the police for nuisances like public urination or being spotted in backyards with a crowbar.
On August 2, 2016, the day of Vetrano's murder, Lewis reportedly returned home in a dishevelled state, claiming he was mugged. Though Lewis's family continued denying his involvement in the murder, he was treated as a suspect based on the pattern of his injuries.
During the first trial in November 2018, a videotape of Lewis' confession was produced to the jurors, among other evidence. However, the trial ended in a hung jury over defensive arguments and claims of DNA evidence contamination. Another trial took place in March 2019, which ended in Lewis's conviction. Ever since then, he has been incarcerated at a jail in Riverhead, Long Island.
The new petition appeals to Queens DA Melinda Katz to reopen the case and release Lewis on bail. It states, "We demand that Melinda Katz immediately refer Chanel Lewis’ case to the Conviction Integrity Unit for investigation to reopen his case and release him on bail. Under the guidelines of the CIU, investigations may be opened where there is “a credible claim of actual innocence or other wrongful conviction.”
"In the case of Chanel Lewis’ murder conviction in the death of Katrina Vetrano, multiple factors meet that criteria, including:
- A history of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of prosecutor Brad Leventhal.
- Concerns over the use of racial profiling in Lewis’ initial arrest.
- Mid-trial disclosure of significant scientific evidence, constituting a 240.20 violation.
- Credible claims by the defense that the confessions the prosecution relied upon in court were coerced by police."
The petition further mentions the plight of Lewis in jail, stating, "Lewis has also been the victim of sexual assault while in prison and his family, who are immigrants with limited means, have repeatedly been denied access to Lewis and information on his well-being. While Melinda Katz’s office takes the time to determine how they ‘feel’ about evaluating whether they may have convicted the wrong person and violated Chanel Lewis’ legal rights, Lewis is suffering."
Read the entire petition here.
As of now, there had been no comments on the petition from DA Katz or Karina Vetrano's family.