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Prosecution, defense rest in Karina Vetrano murder trial

The judge dismissed jurors until Monday, when closing arguments begin.

Philip and Catherine Vetrano arrive at state Supreme

Philip and Catherine Vetrano arrive at state Supreme Court in Queens on Thursday for the trial of Chanel Lewis, charged with killing their daughter Karina Vetrano. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The prosecution and defense in the trial of a man accused of killing Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano in 2016 rested Thursday, setting the stage for the jury deliberations as early as Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal closed out the prosecution case shortly before noon after Legal Aid Society attorneys called only one witness in their defense of Chanel Lewis, 22, of Brooklyn, accused of strangling Vetrano on Aug. 2, 2016, as she jogged in Spring Creek Park.

State Supreme Court Judge Michael Aloise in Queens then dismissed the jury until Monday, when both sides are scheduled to give closing arguments. Aloise expected he would charge the jury right after summations.

Proceedings Thursday involved what appeared to be a frustrating day for Lewis' lawyers. Aloise denied a defense motion to dismiss the indictment — based on an argument the prosecution had not proved its case. The defense also was stymied in an effort to call a Verizon technician as a witness.

The technician was expected to say he saw a man exit the park and two men on motorbikes enter at about the time Vetrano, 30, was killed. But Aloise agreed with the prosecution that such testimony could be too confusing and lead to speculation by the jury.

Private investigator Jennifer Burke, the lone defense witness called, briefly testified about 10 visits she made to Spring Creek Park and Howard Beach right after she was hired in February 2017. Burke described the park and surrounding area, but when asked about cameras in the vicinity, prosecutors objected and she wasn’t allowed to testify about them. The city installed cameras on the park's perimeter shortly after Vetrano’s death.

Leventhal objected again when it became clear that Burke had not turned over her notes to the defense attorneys, who said in court they didn’t appear related to the case. Burke then turned over one page of notes that Leventhal indicated to the court did relate to the case. Aloise dismissed Burke after she spent only 15 minutes on the witness stand.

In what he said was a move to trim the indictment for the jury, Leventhal asked Aloise to dismiss nine of the 13 counts in the indictment involving three counts of first-degree murder, three of second-degree murder, two of aggravated sexual assault in the first degree and one of sexual abuse in the first degree.

Remaining in the indictment is one count of first-degree murder, two of second-degree murder and one of first-degree sexual abuse.

Prosecutors contend Lewis sexually assaulted Vetrano at the time of the strangulation and thus warranted the first-degree murder charge.

Autopsy results showed Vetrano suffered external and internal injuries to her genital area that prosecutors contend Lewis caused for sexual gratification. But Dr. Margaret Prial, the doctor who performed the autopsy, acknowledged it was possible Vetrano suffered those injuries while being dragged through park brush.

In taped confessions, Lewis said he strangled Vetrano but denied sexually assaulting her.

Leventhal didn’t go into detail about why the counts were being dropped. But a law enforcement source said such a move was routine in criminal cases because they were duplicative of the remaining charges and wouldn’t lead to any different sentence if the defendant was convicted.

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