New York City

Karina Vetrano Killer's Sentencing Delayed Over Alleged Jury Impropriety

Karina Vetrano, 30, went for a run one summer day in her Queens neighborhood; she never came back

What to Know

  • A man convicted of murdering a woman when she went out for a run in Queens in 2016 had his sentencing date postponed Wednesday
  • Chanel Lewis faces up to life in prison for the August 2016 death of Karina Vetrano; a judge granted a hearing on alleged jury impropriety
  • The case stirred urban fears, helped change the state's DNA-investigation rules and raised questions about race and police procedures

The man convicted of murdering Karina Vetrano, a young Queens woman who vanished while out for a run in a neighborhood park and was later found dead in a marsh, got an 11th-hour reprieve Wednesday as a judge postponed his scheduled sentencing to allow for a hearing on alleged jury impropriety. 

A jury found Chanel Lewis guilty on all counts at his retrial for the murder and sexual abuse of Vetrano earlier this month, wrapping up -- or so prosecutors thought -- a case that stirred urban fears, helped change the state's DNA-investigation rules and raised questions about race and police procedures.

At the time the verdict was read, Lewis' attorneys, the Legal Aid Society, called the outcome "a complete miscarriage of justice." They had sought a hearing after getting an anonymous letter saying that police had pursued two white suspects before taking DNA samples from hundreds of black men - in what the defense called a "race-biased dragnet" - and coming to focus on Lewis.

"Our client did not receive a fair trial," the Legal Aid Society said, adding that it would appeal.

The postponement Wednesday involved a new issue, though. The alleged jury issues involved a purported dispute between two jurors during deliberations. Prosecutors say they have sworn affidavits from jurors denying the issue.  The judge scheduled a followup hearing on the defense motion for Monday.

Chants of "Justice for Chanel" erupted as the courtroom emptied with no sentence for the man, who faces life in prison. Lewis' supporters, including his mother, protested outside court, claiming the NYPD plants DNA evidence and urging black men to blanketly refuse any requests for a DNA swipe. 

Prosecutors said they wanted to allow the hearing to remove all doubt the murder verdict was valid. They asked for sentencing to be rescheduled for Tuesday, the following day. 

Vetrano was 30 when she disappeared while out for a run in her Howard Beach neighborhood in August 2016. Her father was among the search crews to find her body. Video from inside the courtroom after the verdict was read showed Vetrano's loved ones erupting in cheers as the verdict was read. 

"Jubilation. Justice. Justice has been served," the victim's father, Phil Vetrano, said while leaving court.

Lewis didn't have any visible reaction. It's only took the jury five hours to convict.

In a statement issued on behalf of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown after the verdict, Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan called Vetrano's death "a horrifying case." 

"It is my hope that as this case draws to a close, it will give the family of the victim some closure and comfort knowing her killer will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars," Ryan said. 

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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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