What to Know
- Karina Vetrano, 30, vanished while out for a run in her Queens neighborhood in August 2016
- She was strangled and sexually assaulted when running alone in Spring Creek Park; Chanel Lewis, 22, is being retried after a mistrial
- Defense attorneys are set to argue in court Monday that prosecutors withheld evidence from them, according to a published report
Attorneys for the man accused of killing 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, the Queens woman who vanished while out for a run in her neighborhood in August 2016, dropped a bombshell allegation in court Monday, asking for new hearings based on an anonymous letter that suggested "possible alternate suspects" in the case.
Closing arguments in Chanel Lewis' murder retrial took place Monday following reports of the anonymous letter.
The Daily News reported Friday that the anonymous letter was sent to members of the media, saying the Vetrano murder case had been racially-biased and that more than 300 black men had their DNA collected as part of the investigation.
The letter, first reported by the Daily News, was allegedly written by an NYPD officer and alleged investigators' focus on Lewis was driven by racial profiling.
Prosecutors argued the anonymous letter writer was trying to "derail the trial." It's the second murder trial for Lewis in the Vetrano case; the first ended in mistrial with a hung jury in November. The judge denied the defense motion, but the team was submitting other applications to dismiss the case against Lewis.
Responding to questions about the letter, the NYPD released a statement early Monday denying any investigative misconduct in the Vetrano probe. The department said that the murder has been “painstakingly investigated” and that “the evidence shows Lewis is responsible for her death.”
“Multiple legal hearings and two criminal trials, over more than two years, have already exhaustively examined the issues in this anonymous, 11th-hour letter, a missive riddled with falsehoods and inaccuracies,” the NYPD added.
In the end, the judge rejected the anonymous letter and the defense's petition for new hearings and the summations began.
The prosecution reminded the jury of the alleged evidence against Lewis.
Prosecutor Brad Leventhal said that his DNA was on her phone, neck and under her finger nails.
However, for more than an hour, the defense attacked the DNA evidence as poorly collected and processed, suggesting how cross contamination may have occurred, with defense attorney Robert Moeller saying that "things that could have been done weren't done."
Lewis, 22, faces murder charges in the death of Vetrano, who was killed back in 2016 while running in Howard Beach's Spring Creek Park. He was arrested nearly six months after Vetrano's body was found, the strongest evidence being DNA found under Vetrano's fingernails that prosecutors said implicated Lewis.
However, the defense claimed his two confessions were coerced and contradictory of known facts.
According to Moeller, Lewis said Vetrano "fell into a puddle of water and drowned" and that "she was face up and the water covered her face."
The prosecution played video of Lewis locked up alone just prior to his confession and said that his calm demeanor argued against coercion and that he was ready to confess.
His mother and family insist Lewis did not kill Vetrano.