Queens DA Withholds 911 Tape That Cracked Vetrano Trial Case

By David Brand

An off-duty cop’s 911 call about a “suspicious male” with a “hood up” in Howard Beach was the key piece of evidence that led to the arrest of Chanel Lewis, the man accused of killing Karina Vetrano eight months later.

But, the tape, which was introduced into the public record on Thursday, remains locked away in evidence.

Prosecutors played the recording of a call made by NYPD Lt. John Russo on Memorial Day in 2016. On the tape, Russo told the dispatcher that, “he’s walking around. Just walking around the block . . . stopping in front of houses.”

 CHANEL LEWIS (FAR LEFT) ON TRIAL FOR THE MURDER OF KARINA VETRANO. LEWIS IS SEATED WITH DEFENSE TEAM JENNY CHEUNG (MIDDLE LEFT), JULIA BURKE (MIDDLE RIGHT) AND ROBERT MOELLER (RIGHT). POOL PHOTO BY CURTIS MEANS.

CHANEL LEWIS (FAR LEFT) ON TRIAL FOR THE MURDER OF KARINA VETRANO. LEWIS IS SEATED WITH DEFENSE TEAM JENNY CHEUNG (MIDDLE LEFT), JULIA BURKE (MIDDLE RIGHT) AND ROBERT MOELLER (RIGHT). POOL PHOTO BY CURTIS MEANS.

On the witness stand Russo, a white Howard Beach resident, said he was suspicious of Lewis, a black man, because of his attire in warm weather.

“To see a person a dressed with long sleeves and hood up in warm weather seemed out place,” Russo said. “After several minutes of watching, I believed he was about to commit or had previously committed a burglary so I called 911 and reported a suspicious a male.”

A courtroom clerk told reporters that Judge Michael Aloise decided that all trial exhibits must be obtained through the Queens District Attorney’s office. The clerk said the judge declined to allow reporters to listen to the tape and use their own recording devices or transcribe the conversation after the courtroom had been cleared.

Though some evidence has been made available, including photos of the crime scene, a spokesperson for the DA said that the only copy of the 911 recording had been submitted into evidence.

The DA’s office could not provide a copy of the recording or a transcript. The Eagle and other reporters obtained the recording from another source Friday night.