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Retrial of Karina Vetrano murder suspect Chanel Lewis set for March

The first trial in the Queens' jogger's death ended in a hung jury last year. 

Chanel Lewis appears Tuesday at State Supreme Court

Chanel Lewis appears Tuesday at State Supreme Court in Queens. Photo Credit: Pool / Ellis Kaplan

The retrial of the man accused of murdering Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano more than two years ago is set to begin on March 12, a Queens State Supreme Court judge said Tuesday.

During a brief court appearance, Judge Michael Aloise disclosed that jury selection will begin on that date in the trial of Chanel Lewis, now 22, whose first murder trial late last year ended in a hung jury.

It was on Nov. 20 that a mistrial resulted in the case after jurors stunned many court observers by announcing they couldn’t unanimously agree on a verdict. Aloise declared a mistrial after jurors voted 7-5 for conviction, according to sources familiar with the case and the deliberations. 

Aloise received some criticism in the media for declaring a mistrial so quickly without giving the jurors more time to deliberate. But law enforcement sources said that both the prosecution and the Vetrano family agreed before the mistrial was declared that with such a deep split evident among jurors further deliberations would be pointless.

Outside court on Tuesday, Philip Vetrano, the victim’s father, said he was happy a date was finally set for the retrial but voiced discomfort with the fact that he and his family had to sit through the evidence again.   

A spokesman for the Legal Aid Society, which is representing Lewis, said the agency had no comment about the new trial.

During the first trial the prosecution displayed graphic crime scene photos of  the 30-year-old Vetrano’s battered body when it was found in Spring Creek Park, where she had gone jogging the evening of Aug. 2, 2016. Philip Vetrano testified at the first trial about finding his daughter’s body in the weeds with police the night of the killing. He is expected to testify again in the second trial.

Lewis faces three counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree sex abuse.  Prosecutors contend that injuries to Vetrano’s genitals were evidence that Lewis tried to abuse her. If convicted of the murder charges, Lewis, of East New York, faces a maximum penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

During the trial, prosecutors presented two video confessions of Lewis in which he described how, during a chance encounter with Vetrano in the park, he suddenly snapped and began pummeling and choking her. Lewis stated that he attacked Vetrano because he was angry over the way someone had disturbed him by playing loud music at his home. He then described how he dragged Vetrano’s body from the jogging trail into some tall weeds.

Prosecutors also presented DNA evidence from Vetrano’s body and her cellphone, which forensic experts said genetically matched Lewis. The defense presented one witness and relied instead on cross examination of prosecution witnesses to try and raise reasonable doubt about Lewis’ guilt.

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