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Mistrial declared in Karina Vetrano murder trial

Upon hearing the judge declare a mistrial, Vetrano's parents appeared solemn but otherwise showed no emotion as they left the courtroom.

Catherine and Philip Vetrano arrive at Queens Criminal

Catherine and Philip Vetrano arrive at Queens Criminal Court Tuesday for the second day of jury deliberations in the trial of a Brooklyn man accused of killing their daughter Karina Vetrano.   Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

A Queens state Supreme Court justice declared a mistrial late Tuesday night in the case of a Brooklyn man accused of sexually abusing and strangling Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano in 2016. 

Justice Michael Aloise dismissed the jury of seven women and five men after the panel sent him a note about 9 p.m. saying they were "split" and unable to reach a verdict after a day of deliberations.

Upon hearing Aloise declare a mistrial, Vetrano's parents appeared solemn but otherwise showed no emotion as they left the courtroom without commenting. Earlier in the courtroom, a Vetrano relative said, "Oh my God" after the mistrial was announced.

A spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said his office would retry the case. Aloise set a Jan. 22 hearing date to discuss a new trial.

Lewis will remain in custody, officials said.

As they left the courtroom, his attorneys said it was clear from watching the jury respond to the defense they crafted for Lewis — including questions over DNA evidence and his videotaped confessions — the panels members were torn.

"You could tell there was a division but you don't know what the division was," Legal Aid Society attorney Robert Moeller said. "…I don't look upon this as any sort of win."

In a statement released late Tuesday night, officials with the Legal Aid Society said the case against Lewis was never conclusive.

“The death of Karina Vetrano is tragic and our hearts go out to her family," the statement said, "but the rush to criminalize our client is not the answer nor is it justice. We will continue to fight on behalf of Chanel Lewis at the retrial in January.”

Prosecutors were not available for comment.

The mistrial came after the jury deliberated long after the normal 5:30 p.m. quitting time. Shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday, a court reporter began reading back testimony of DNA expert Linda Razzano, who works for the city medical examiner and testified about the results of DNA testing done on Vetrano’s neck and her cellphone. During questioning by prosecutors, Razzano had testified that recovered DNA indicated a match with the genetic profile for Lewis. She also said DNA from skin under Vetrano’s fingernails showed a likelihood of being a mix of the victim’s and Lewis’.

Earlier Tuesday, jurors in their first full day of deliberations asked to view the two videotaped confessions Lewis, 22, made for police and prosecutors following his arrest in February 2017. The confessions, along with the DNA evidence, were critical to the prosecution’s case. Earlier in the day, the panel also asked for the complete DNA work-up done in the investigation and that it be submitted into evidence.

Lewis was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree murder and one count of sexual abuse stemming from the Aug. 2, 2016, discovery of Vetrano’s body in Spring Creek Park. Vetrano, 30, was found in park weeds, beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted. She had gone for a jog earlier that day and was found at about 11 p.m. off a jogging path in an area surrounded by weeds and trees.

Queens prosecutors alleged Lewis attacked Vetrano, whom he had never met, in a sudden rage over an incident at his East New York home earlier in the day. In his confessions, Lewis said “he lost it” when he crossed paths with the petite Vetrano, grabbed her and started to pummel and strangle her.

On Tuesday morning, the jury asked for other evidence the prosecution had submitted, namely a map showing the park and cellphone towers that, according to the testimony of expert witnesses, indicated Lewis’ cellphone was in the park about the time of the attack. Jurors also asked to review a list of web searches found on Lewis’ cellphone, dealing with Vetrano and subjects like Fifth Amendment rights, prosecutorial discretion, and other subjects prosecutors said served as evidence of his guilty conscience.

If convicted of the top charge of first-degree murder, Lewis faced a sentence of life in prison.

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