By David Brand
Dozens of potential jurors arrived at the Queens Criminal Courthouse Monday as jury selection began in the trial of Chanel Lewis, the man charged with murdering Howard Beach resident Karina Vetrano in August 2016.
Lewis sat with his three Legal Aid defense attorneys, who submitted a document alerting the court to Lewis’ intention to testify.
Before the beginning of the jury selection process, court officers cleared reporters from the courtroom based on orders from presiding Judge Michael Aloise, who they said cited space limitations.
A spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration said he had alerted Aloise, but barring reporters was “ultimately up to his discretion.”
After lunch, the court allowed reporters to re-enter the courtroom.
“I’m not here to argue with you,” the courtroom sergeant told reporters. “I’m following the judge’s orders.”
Clerk Jeff Ryan referred reporters from the Eagle, New York Post, Daily News, WINS and NBC4 to the clerk’s office.
The trial is expected to last two-and-a-half weeks, a source told the Eagle. If the trial goes longer, it will resume after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Prior to the start of the jury selection process — when reporters were still allowed in the courtroom — Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal submitted two applications to consider infractions Lewis received while in jail.
Leventhal said Lewis allegedly got into a fight inside the jailhouse common room. He allegedly used a t-shirt to clean up blood and hid the t-shirt under his mattress.
“The act of concealing evidence goes to his credibility and ability to deceive others,” Leventhal said.
Defense attorney Robert Moeller, a lawyer from the Legal Aid Society argued that “people who are incarcerated live a very different life” and the jailhouse infraction should not be used to apply to Lewis’ character. Aloise denied the application.
In addition to Moeller, Lewis is represented by Julia Burke and Jenny Cheung, also from Legal Aid.
The prosecutors also submitted an application saying that an infraction that Lewis received for refusing to obey correction officers’ commands while in jail could be used to contradict the notion that Lewis could “easily succumb to authority.” The defense has said that an alleged confession Lewis made while in police custody was coerced.
Aloise held that application in abeyance as the trial unfolds and if Lewis does in fact testify.
The defense team requested that prosecutors be prevented from referring to the investigation as “exhaustive and extensive.” They also requested grand jury testimony from a DNA expert who is no longer working with the prosecution. Aloise denied both applications.