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Both sides rest in retrial of man accused of killing Karina Vetrano

Final day of testimony includes a prosecution witness discussing the DNA evidence authorities say ties Chanel Lewis of Brooklyn to the 2016 killing.

Chanel Lewis appears in Queens State Supreme Court

Chanel Lewis appears in Queens State Supreme Court at his retrial on charges in connection with Karina Vetrano's killing. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The prosecution and defense both rested Thursday in the retrial of a Brooklyn man accused of strangling Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano in 2016, setting the stage for a Queens State Supreme Court jury to begin deliberations Monday.

Just before 4 p.m., Queens Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal said he had presented all evidence in the case against Chanel Lewis, 22, charged with Vetrano’s slaying in August 2016 as she jogged through Spring Creek Park near her home. 

Minutes after Leventhal spoke, Legal Aid Society attorney Robert Moeller told the court and Judge Michael Aloise that his side had also rested. Leventhal presented a range of witnesses that included Vetrano's parents and forensic experts. Moeller mounted his defense without presenting any witnesses.

Earlier Thursday, Linda Razzano, the prosecution's final witness and also an official in the Office of The Chief Medical examiner, testified in detail about the DNA testing done in the case. In front of the jury and under direct questioning from Leventhal, Razzano, an expert in forensic biology, said genetic testing showed that DNA of an unknown male found on Vetrano’s neck and her cell phone matched with Lewis.

Razzano testified to essentially the same details as she did in the first trial and walked the jury through DNA lab procedures and related science.

Lewis is being retried for allegedly strangling and sexually abusing the petite Vetrano on the night of Aug. 2, 2016. He was arrested and charged in February 2017. His first trial ended in November with a mistrial after the jury couldn’t agree on a unanimous verdict.

By using a different method of analysis, Razzano said in Thursday testimony, the DNA found under two of Vetrano's fingernails was hundreds of billion times more likely than not to have come from her and Lewis rather than an unknown male.

In a different strategy from the first trial, Leventhal then brought out the concept of “secondary" DNA transference— where DNA from one person may be transferred to a victim by a third person.  Razzano said transference is a known phenomenon but her analysis of the amount of genetic material found on Vetrano showed that Lewis’s DNA had undergone a direct “primary” transfer to the victim’s neck and cellphone.

Razzano underwent a some times contentious cross examination by defense attorney Jennie Cheung who questioned the expert about everything from lab practices to her reading of science journals.  But Razzano insisted that while there is no ready test to say when DNA transferred to a person, the amount of genetic material found on Vetrano from Lewis was a primary transfer and not secondary from someone else.

At one point Razzano also noted to Cheung that “DNA doesn’t fly.”

Aloise told the jury of seven women and five men that they could expect to begin deliberations on Monday and would be provided lunch and dinner if necessary.

The trial began March 18 with jury selection and was expected to last three to four weeks. But testimony went faster than expected.


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