Convicted Killer Maintains Innocence As Vetrano Family Applauds Life Sentence

April 23, 2019 - 2:01 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The man convicted of killing Queens jogger Karina Vetrano was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Chanel Lewis, 22, was found guilty in the 2016 slaying of the 30-year-old while she was out for a jog near her family’s Howard Beach home. His first trial ended in a hung jury and on Monday, a judge denied a motion for a mistrial after the defense alleged jury misconduct.

On Tuesday morning, emotions were high in the Queens courtroom when Vetrano’s parents and siblings addressed the court before Lewis’ sentencing.

“So repulsive are you that you left her hidden to be further desecrated in the summer heat by bugs and animals. Like a snake, you slithered away into the night,” said Vetrano’s mother.

When Lewis was given the chance to speak, he continued to deny any wrongdoing.

“I am innocent and I am sorry for the family's loss but I didn't do this,” he said.

Outside the courthouse, Vetrano's father, Phil, spoke to reporters saying, "Karina got justice and so did he."

“We never wanted to make a race thing out of this, and to us it still isn’t, but the defense chose to put us through this torture,” he added. “They made a circus out of this.”

Meanwhile, Lewis’ supporters called his sentencing a “modern day lynching” and say they believe that police planted DNA evidence that led to the conviction.

"The jury was tainted and the judge is biased. From the beginning, from the onset, Chanel did not get a fair shake," said Chris Banks, a Lewis family spokesman.

“The judge exposed who he was today, a racist. He was biased from the beginning,” said Kevin McCall, a spiritual advisor for the Lewis family.

The Legal Aid Society says it would fight the conviction and sentencing.

“While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano’s death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case – from the police investigation to jury deliberations – was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs,” the group said in a statement. “This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis’s Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. We will appeal this case to the Appellate Division to secure Mr. Lewis the justice that he deserves.”

Earlier this month, a juror in the case had told the New York Times he was pressured into voting for a conviction. He said he had doubts about Lewis' guilt, but he feared having to stay all night long if a guilty verdict was not reached. Flustered and having migraines, he said he gave in at 9 p.m. on April 1, after five hours of deliberating.

"He was pressured into giving a verdict that was consistent with the majority of the people wanted to do, but not what he wanted to do," the juror's attorney said.

The juror also said he noticed the judge wore purple, Vetrano's favorite color, and thought it was a deliberate show of support for her family, and also claims the jury foreman decided Lewis was guilty on the third day of the trial after Vetrano's parents took the witness stand.

CBS2 spoke to the jury foreman, Brian Morrissey, who says he thought Lewis was guilty early on.

"Two things, the confession – it wasn't coerced. DNA – DNA was so overwhelming," he said.

The lead prosecutor, Brad Leventhal, said he supported the hearing on the misconduct allegations so the court and the public can see that this was a valid and good verdict.