A jury in New York City found Chanel Lewis guilty of murdering Karina Vetrano, less than four months after the jury at this first trial deadlocked.
The New York Times reports that a jury deliberated for only five hours before finding Lewis, 22, guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree sexual abuse.
Vetrano, 30, was found dead in August 2016 in Spring Creek Park near her home in Howard Beach, New York. When the young woman did not return home from her regular run in the park, her family and police launched a massive search that led to her body.
Lewis was arrested in February 2017, and reportedly confessed to killing Vetrano during a police interrogation. Trace amounts of his DNA were found on Vetrano’s neck, under her fingernails, and on her phone, according to the New York Times.
Lewis’s defense team had argued that his confession was coerced, and that the DNA evidence may have been contaminated.
Chris Banks, a spokesperson for the Lewis family, told the New York Times that his client would appeal the verdict.
“We knew he would be railroaded,” Banks said. “The evidence was extremely weak and the confession was coerced.”
— NBC New York (@NBCNewYork) April 2, 2019
Brad A. Leventhal, the lead prosecutor on the case, argued that the evidence was more than sufficient to convict Lewis, noting that cell phone data placed him at the scene of the murder, and that it was “376 billion times more probable it’s his DNA under her fingernails” than another possible suspect.
Karina’s mother Cathy Vetrano testified at the second trial, and did not testify at the first. As CrimeOnline previously reported, the grieving mother said on the stand that she was “screaming in the street” after her daughter’s body was found in the park.
On Monday, before the verdict was delivered, the New York Daily News reported that an anonymous person, claiming to be a NYPD officer, sent a letter to Lewis”s defense lawyers, claiming that the prosecution withheld potentially exculpatory evidence. The letter, sent to the newspaper and Legal Aid Society, claimed that police were initially looking for “jacked up white guys from Howard Beach,” before DNA obtained from the victim indicated that the genetic material belonged to a black male.
The letter-writer claimed that the NYPD then took DNA swaps from hundreds of black men, alleging that one NYPD officer said that Lewis was “too dimwitted and puny” to have murdered Vetrano, but nonetheless took a DNA swab from Lewis, who was brought into the investigation after an officer reportedly remembered him from a suspicious encounter in May 2016.
According to Gothamist, the defense team submitted a motion on Monday to review further evidence, prompted by the letter, but the presiding judge denied the motion.