Mistrial declared for 'angry loner' after jury is split over murder of Queens jogger despite videotaped confession
A mistrial was declared for Chanel Lewis, accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Karina Vetrano, after just a day and a half of extensive deliberations by a split jury
A "perpetual angry loner" has been granted a mistrial after he was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a jogger in Queens, New York. Prosecutors argued on the last day of an emotional trial on Tuesday that 22-year-old Chanel Lewis had no girlfriend, no friends, no job, and was "angry all the time" when he decided to vent his rage on 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, killing her in August 2016. District Attorney Brad Leventhal said, "On this day he took his anger out on a pretty young woman, a girl in a halter top."
After just a day and a half of deliberation, jurors reported on Tuesday evening that they were unable to come to a unanimous decision, thereby resulting in a mistrial. "I’m inclined to agree even though it’s only been a day and a half. There were extensive deliberations.
They covered issues central to the debate," said Judge Michael Aloise, granting a motion for a mistrial by Lewis' attorney. According to prosecutors, they will move to retry Lewis during his next court appearance on January 22, until when he will remain in custody, Daily Mail reports.
The DNA evidence linking Lewis to the crime scene, including some found under his fingernails, is not reliable, his lawyers argued. The crime scene had reportedly been corrupted by various people, including Vetrano's father, and therefore couldn't be relied on, Attorney Robert Moeller said. He added that Lewis was actually just repeating information he learned from the news when he "appeared" to be confessing the crime to authorities along with supposed details of the disturbing murder.
If Lewis is convicted of murdering Vetrano while she was jogging in Spring Creek Park, he faces life in prison. During the crime, Vetrano was punched in the face, hurled to the ground, violently sexually assaulted, and then strangled to death in a marsh, which is just a block away from her residence.
Philip Vetrano found his daughter's body at the scene, where authorities said she fought for her life until the very end — her teeth had cracked after fiercely biting her attacker in protest. Vetrano's parents stoically bore witness throughout the trial as the prosecution laid out its evidence for the panel of jurors.
According to the New York Daily News, prosecutors introduced evidence taken from Lewis' black ZTE cell phone on Tuesday after it was recovered from Lewis' dresser in his bedroom by Josue Rivera, a detective with the NYPD's Computer Crimes Squad. Rivera testified that the phone contained two photos of the victim as well as a photo of the crime scene taken from online news articles about the crime. In Lewis' browser searches, investigators found a Wikipedia page for the Catholic Sacrament of Penance, one of seven sacraments of the Catholic Church in which Catholics obtain absolution for sins committed against others.
When asked whether the name "Karina Vetrano" was ever searched by Lewis, Rivera said there was no such evidence. "You can't testify that the name Karina Vetrano was ever searched by the user, is that correct?" Lewis' defense attorney, Julia Burke, asked. "That is correct," the detective responded.
Lewis pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse despite making a videotaped confession admitting that he killed Vetrano after spotting her at random and snapping. However, his personal attorneys argued that Lewis was isolated during his six-hour interrogation and was coerced into making the said confession.
Lewis reportedly confessed only when a black detective was brought in, after refusing to speak with white detectives. Reports also suggest that the police believe he attacked the jogger, whom he did not know earlier, because he was upset with a neighbor for playing loud music.
During his conversation with the detectives, he said he didn't "like" the people in the largely Italian-American Howard Beach neighborhood, raising speculation that the assault may have been racially motivated. Previously, Lewis' lawyers questioned the validity of his DNA sample from a consensual cheek swab as well as the manner in which his confession was extracted by authorities.