Mistrial in Murder Case of New York City Runner Karina Vetrano

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
November 21, 2018US News
Mistrial in Murder Case of New York City Runner Karina Vetrano
In this Aug. 6, 2016 file photo, mourners carry the casket of Karina Vetrano from St. Helen's Church following her funeral in the Howard Beach section of the Queens borough of New York. (Steven Sunshine/Newsday via AP, File)

A jury couldn’t decide whether to convict a man accused of sexually assaulting and killing a 30-year-old female jogger, leading to a mistrial.

Judge Michael Aloise in Queens granted a mistrial on Nov. 20 after the jury sent him a note saying it was split after just a day and a half of deliberations.

“It doesn’t seem like we can make progress. We feel that we have exhausted all of our options,” the jury wrote.

Chanel Lewis, 22, was accused of killing 30-year-old Karina Vetrano as she ran on a park trail near Howard Beach’s Spring Creek Park in the Queens borough of the city on Aug. 2, 2016. Prosecutors said Vetrano had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Her father, a retired Fire Department of New York official, discovered the body in a marshy area, reported Pix 11.

Lewis was arrested in February 2017 after officials linked him to DNA found under Vetrano’s fingernails and on her neck and phone.

Robert Boyce, New York Police Department chief of detectives, said the break came after police went back through 911 calls and found one reporting a suspicious person in the area near the attack. They identified Lewis, who voluntarily agreed to a DNA swab, and the results matched the DNA found at the scene.

In his taped confession, Lewis told police that he was upset with a neighbor and that when he came across Vetrano on a secluded section of a marshland park, he “just lost it.” He said he beat and strangled her but did not molest her.

“This girl jogging … and you know, one thing led to another,” he told detectives. “Hitting her and stuff like that.” He said he punched her five times and dragged her into the tall grass.

“I finished her off,” he said, reported the New York Post. “I was beating her and was mad at her.”

Jurors watched the confession tape on Nov. 9. In a second tape recorded several hours after the first and also played in court, Lewis said he did strangle Vetrano but denied again sexually assaulting her.

His attorneys said the confession was wrongly obtained and should not have been admissible in the trial. They said he confessed only because he wanted to go home after waiting hours in an interrogation room.

Prosecutors, though, said that Lewis was a loner and “perpetually angry man” with no girlfriend and no job who took out his frustration on the jogger.

On Nov. 13, jurors heard that a cell phone belonging to Lewis showed he had searched online for Vetrano’s picture as well as a picture of the crime scene, reported the Post. He also looked up the Sacrament of Penance, articles about DNA testing, and arraignment.

Defense attorney Robert Moeller said the case was based on circumstantial evidence. He argued that the crime scene was corrupted and that DNA evidence was suspect.

“This case is far from conclusive, and the jury’s deadlock proves this,” the Legal Aid Society, which helped provide defense for Lewis, 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.”

Prosecutors said they’ll move to retry Lewis, who is expected back in court on Jan. 20. He will be held in custody.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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