By David Brand
Chanel Lewis, the man charged with killing Howard Beach resident Karina Vetrano in August 2016, returned to court on Tuesday, his first appearance since the murder trial ended in a split jury in November.
Judge Michael Aloise, prosecutors from the Queens District Attorney’s Office and Lewis’ defense team from Legal Aid Society agreed to begin jury selection on March 12.
Lewis, 22, wore a slate gray suit and gray sweater for the brief hearing to schedule the new trial date. His mother Veta Lewis and four family members and supporters were in attendance, but declined to discuss the case outside of court.
About a dozen family and friends of Karina Vetrano also attended the hearing.
Katrina’s father Phil Vetrano said the family had mixed emotions.
“I'm glad and disappointed,” Phil Vetrano said. “We are glad it's starting again and to get this thing over with and disappointed that we have to go through with it again.”
Lewis was indicted for first- and second-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse — contingent with the first-degree murder charge.
Assistant District Attorneys Brad Leventhal and Michael Curtis charge that Lewis randomly encountered and attacked Vetrano while she jogged in Spring Creek Park near her Howard Beach home on Aug. 2, 2016. Lewis punched, strangled and sexually assaulted her, they said during the November trial.
Prosecutors specifically pointed to trace DNA evidence that matches Lewis found on Vetrano’s phone, neck and fingernails. They also played a confession that Lewis gave to detectives hours after his arrest in February 2017.
Lewis’ defense team of Robert Moeller, Jenny Cheung and Julia Burke questioned the DNA evidence and said the crime scene was contaminated by dozens of investigators and Vetrano’s own father, who found Vetrano’s body and picked her up. They also say the confessions were coerced.
The prosecutor and defense teams are in agreement for the retrial.
If convicted on the top charge of first-degree murder Lewis faces life in prison.