Vetrano Murder Trial Ends In Hung Jury, Mistrial

By David Brand

After nearly 13 hours of deliberating, the 12-person jury in the trial of Chanel Lewis, the man accused of killing Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano in August 2016, told Justice Michael Aloise it had reached an impasse. Aloise declared a mistrial.

Lewis, 22, was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and first-degree sexual abuse. The first-degree murder charge and one of the second-degree murder charges are based on the sex abuse charge.

”After deliberating for an entire day, at this point we are split,” the jury wrote in a note. 

Aloise read the note to the attorneys and said he was “inclined to believe them.” Aloise did not issue an Allen charge instructing jurors to resume deliberations.

 Chanel Lewis (left) with his defense team. // Photo by Curtis Means

Chanel Lewis (left) with his defense team. // Photo by Curtis Means

Vetrano’s mother, father and sister sat in stunned silence when Aloise announced he was granting the mistrial. Several people in the audience gasped and someone said, “Oh my god.” 

The new trial date is Jan. 22.

When approached after the trial, four jurors declined to comment. One acknowledged that it was a tough day. Vetrano family members also declined to comment.

The jury deliberated for about an hour Monday evening. Jurors arrived at 9:30 a.m. this morning and deliberations lasted from about 10 a.m. to about 10 p.m. 

Throughout the day, Lewis sat leaning forward over the desk whenever he was taken into the courtroom. His mother was not present Tuesday because she had to work.

During deliberations, jurors requested photos of Vetrano’s necklace and neck injuries, web searches and cached web data that police said related to the crime, medical examiner’s DNA report, a diagram of the location of Vetrano’s sneaker, phone and headphones, photos of the trail and Lewis’ and Vetrano’s phone records.

Jurors also requested a transcript of Aloise reading the charges. Aloise said he could not provide a transcript and instead read the four charges again.

After a lunch break, jurors returned to the courtroom to request three additional pieces of evidence: cell phone towers records, the videotaped confession Lewis gave prosecutors inside the police precinct and the videotaped confession that gave Lewis gave to two assistant district attorneys the morning after his arrest.

Jurors asked to “specifically listen to” a piece of the confession tape where Lewis uttered a partially unintelligible comment inside the interrogation room hours before giving detectives a confession.            

After Det. Barry Brown promised Lewis he would be able to call his family “in 15 minutes,” Brown exited the room. Lewis, alone in the room, made an unintelligible remark.

During direct examination of Brown by prosecutors, Brown testified that Lewis said “in 15 minutes, it’s all going to come out.”

The defense disputes that interpretation and some in the courtroom said they thought Lewis said “in 15 minutes, I’m going to come out.”  

Brown sat in the first row of the courtroom while the confession tapes played.

Around 6 p.m., jurors asked to see autopsy photos of Vetrano and to listen to the 74-page transcript of testimony from Linda Razzano, assistant director of the OCME Forensic Biology Department.

Razzano testified about the DNA found on Vetrano's neck, nails and cell phone. In cross-examination, defense attorney Jenny Cheung, a DNA expert, suggested that Vetrano could have encountered Lewis’  DNA elsewhere or that someone else who arrived on the scene could have been transferred the DNA by accident.

If convicted, Lewis faces life in prison.