What to Know
- Chanel Lewis got an 11th-hour reprieve Wednesday as a judge postponed his sentencing to allow for a hearing on alleged jury impropriety
- A jury found Lewis guilty on all counts at his retrial for the murder and sexual abuse of Vetrano earlier this month
- Karina Vetrano, a young Queens woman, vanished while out for a run in a nearby park and was later found dead in a marsh
A judge Monday denied the defense motion to set aside the murder verdict in the 2016 death of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, who went out for a run one summer day and never came home, and rescheduled her killer's sentencing for the next day.
Chanel Lewis, convicted of all charges, in Vetrano's death earlier this month, was supposed to be sentenced last week. His lawyers earned him an 11th-hour reprieve, successfully arguing for a hearing on the alleged jury misconduct. But that reprieve was brief; Lewis' sentencing has been rescheduled for Tuesday.
He faces up to life behind bars in the case, a case that defense attorneys tried to turn upside down with a sworn affidavit from one of the jurors claiming other jurors were not impartial and didn't heed the strict orders of the court.
According to the defense motion, one juror, Juror A, submitted an affidavit that alleged another, Juror B, did or tried to engage in premature deliberations with at least one fellow juror as early as the second day of trial testimony, against court instructions and well before the jury's authorized deliberation period.
Juror A claimed that Juror B made comments in the jury room after each witness testified, saying statements like, "I can't believe this" and "This is so sad," according to the affidavit. If that is true, that juror didn't heed the court's strict and repeated instructions not to form an opinion about the defendant's guilt or innocence, defense attorneys argued.
That juror also didn't listen to instructions not to speak to anyone about the case prior to jury deliberations, they said, arguing that alleged misconduct violated their client's right to a fair trial. The defense says they couldn't speak to every single juror on the case, so said it was possible Juror B may have made similar comments to other panelists.
According to the affidavit, Juror A says a juror approached him on the day Vetrano's parents testified and said, "Well, I have my mind made up, and I hope you do, too."
Juror A's affidavit indicated Juror A asked another juror, Juror C, whether he should report what Juror B had said about the case, and Juror C said it wasn't necessary, the motion says. "However, had this misconduct on the part of a juror become known during the trial, a hearing would have been instantly mandated to determine its full nature and implications," the motion reads.
A fourth juror also complicated matters, the defense attorneys argued, because that person was a survivor of rape and "used her personal experience as a rape victim to persuade the others that the People met their burden to prove the sexual abuse charge," the defense motion says.
According to Juror A's affidavit, Juror A and at least one other juror voted to convict on the sex abuse charge because of the juror who had survived rape and another juror who had served on an unrelated rape case at some point in time.
"I was not convinced that sexual abuse happened," the affidavit reads. "He said, 'this is what the body looked like in my prior case, and that guy was guilty of rape.'"
Juror A also alleged pressure by other jurors to move forward on the case in the face of, one one day, technical issues that prevented video evidence playback. Another time, Juror A claimed, he had written the court a note asking how long they would have to stay one particular evening and another juror ripped it up.
Ultimately, the motion asked that the court "at least" order an evidentiary hearing on the issue. Details of the judge's decision weren't immediately available.
Vetrano's father, Phil, who was among the search members to find her body, solemnly headed into the courthouse Monday, first declining comment and then saying, "I know what's gonna happen" when asked about the proceedings.
What he meant wasn't immediately clear. Vetrano's mother and sister also were seen heading into the court building ahead of the hearing.
Lewis' mother was also present Monday. Last week, when the judge delayed the sentencing, she was among those who erupted in chants of "Justice for Chanel" as the courtroom emptied with no sentence. She and other Lewis' supporters protested outside court afterwards, claiming the NYPD planted DNA evidence and urging black men to blanketly refuse any requests for a DNA swipe.
"From day one, my son, Chanel Lewis, is innocent," his mother said. "I am a mother. I feel the Vetrano pain, because they lost their daughter. But I too lost a son. And my son is not the killer."
Prosecutors said they wanted to allow the hearing to remove all doubt the murder verdict was valid, but said they felt confident it would hold up.
A previous trial ended in a hung jury in November. Although the retrial consisted of information and evidence presented in the first trial, startling allegations and new testimony were also presented in court this time around.