Accused of killing Karina Vetrano in 2016 in Howard Beach, Queens, Chanel Lewis’ first trial ended with a hopelessly deadlocked jury, causing a State Supreme Court justice to rule the case a mistrial. In a hearing on Tuesday, the same judge has set the process in motion again, beginning March 12.
“Going to get this over with,” said Philip Vetrano, the victim’s father, after the hearing. “I’m disappointed that we have to go through it again.”
The original trial ended on November 20, 2018 with a hung jury after 17 hours of deliberation. Jurors were unable to reach an agreement that the prosecution’s evidence, which included a taped confession and DNA evidence an expert witness said linked Chanel Lewis to the crime scene, was definitive enough to convict him without a reasonable doubt.
The case was mired in controversy over the methods police used to obtain their evidence. According to Lewis’ defense attorney from the Legal Aid Society, the NYPD obtained their evidence from an illegal stop-and-frisk arrest. Additionally, The Daily Beast reported that Lewis’ confession to detectives seemed to have been coerced and coached, and that the DNA test the prosecution used was notoriously unreliable and inconclusive.
“The description of the crime seems like a narrative that may have been fed to him,” Steven A. Drizin, a former legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions told The Daily Beast. “That he just snapped. That he just lost it. People just don’t lose it, beat women to death strangle them, and pull their clothes down for no reason. Because he’s angry that his neighbors played music too loud? That raises concerns for me.”
After his defense team moved to have the case declared a mistrial, Chanel Lewis was sent back to Rikers Island to await a second hearing, where he has reported of inhumane conditions.
“Captains are trying to tell inmates to beat me up,” he claimed to the New York Post, who described his reports of abuse by both guards and fellow prisoners as “whining.”
Prior to his arrest for the murder of Karina Vetrano, Chanel Lewis lived with his mother in Brooklyn and attended a private school for “children experiencing emotional and behavioral problems.”
“The death of Karina Vetrano is tragic and our hearts go out to her family,” the Legal Aid Society stated after the mistrial was first declared, “but the rush to criminalize our client is not the answer nor is it justice.”