Mistrial declared in case of slain NYC runner Karina Vetrano
NEW YORK — The trial of a man accused of killing a woman who was sexually attacked while running near her family’s New York City home ended in a hung jury late Tuesday.
Judge Michael Aloise in Queens granted a mistrial after the jury sent him a note saying it was split after just a day and a half of deliberations.
“It doesn’t seem like we can make progress. We feel that we have exhausted all of our options,” the jury wrote.
Chanel Lewis, 22, was accused of killing 30-year-old Karina Vetrano as she ran on a park trail in Howard Beach, Queens, in August 2016. Prosecutors said Vetrano had been sexually abused and strangled. Her father discovered the body.
The closely watched case caused fear among women who run alone and baffled investigators, who for months were unable to find anyone who matched DNA that was found under the victim’s fingernails as she fought back. The DNA also was found on her neck and phone.
Robert Boyce, New York Police Department chief of detectives, said the break came after police went back through 911 calls and found one reporting a suspicious person in the area near the attack. Lewis was tested and linked to DNA found at the scene and on the victim, Boyce said.
In his taped confession, Lewis told police that he was upset with a neighbor and that when he came across Vetrano on a secluded section of a marshland park, he “just lost it.” He said he beat and strangled her but did not molest her.
“This girl jogging … and you know, one thing led to another,” he told detectives. “Hitting her and stuff like that.”
His attorneys said the confession was wrongly obtained and should not have been admissible in the trial. They said he confessed only because he wanted to go home after waiting hours in an interrogation room.
Defense attorney Robert Moeller said the case was based on circumstantial evidence. He argued that the crime scene was corrupted and that DNA evidence was suspect.
“This case is far from conclusive, and the jury’s deadlock proves this,” the Legal Aid Society, which helped provide defense for Lewis, said in a statement. “The death of Karina Vetrano is tragic and our hearts go out to her family, but the rush to criminalize our client is not the answer nor is it justice.”
Prosecutors said they’ll move to retry Lewis, who is expected back in court on Jan. 20. He will be held in custody.