UPDATE: The Karina Vetrano Case

The Howard Beach jogger’s murder case is set for a re-trial.

Sometime ago, I wrote about Chanel Lewis, the accused killer of jogger, Karina Vetrano. The murder took place back in 2016 and about six months later, the NYPD arrested Lewis and charged him with murder and almost immediately, I was sure they didn’t have the right guy. Chief among my concerns was that neither physical evidence nor eyewitness testimony led the police to him, a suspicious cop did. That was my first red flag and now that the case ended in a mistrial and a new trial is set to begin later this month, I have a couple more to wave:

red flag

“This woman put up a ferocious fight, right to the end. She was beaten quite severely, which would suggest she put up a big fight,” 

– Chief of Detectives, Robert Boyce

The above description is based on the fact that when Ms. Vetrano’s body was found, she was covered in scratches, had broken teeth and was strangled with such force, that the killer’s hand print was marked into her neck. Contrast that description with the one in Mr. Lewis’ medical record, from a visit to the doctor the day after the murder: “Head atraumatic, neck supple. No other injury.” The injury to his hand, described as ‘superficial.’ This woman fought for her life and the accused has no markings to show for it? She was a frequent runner, in reasonably good shape. Whoever murdered and assaulted her would, at the very least, have some scratches and bruising; Mr. Lewis had nothing of the sort.

“The District Attorney’s case relies on three separate pieces of evidence tying Lewis to the crime (of which there were no known eyewitnesses). One of those pieces of evidence is the prosecution’s claim that Lewis’s DNA was found on Vetrano’s back and cell phone,”

The DNA evidence in this case has been categorized in a myriad of ways: as a ‘strong profile’, a ‘possible match’, a match and as an unproven part of a complex mixture of  several DNA. The lack of consistency in how the DNA is described suggests a fluid interpretation of the results which would likely lean in favor of prosecutors because it’s a good thing when you can’t definitively eliminate your key suspect from a pool of DNA, but it severely undercuts the premise that there was only one killer. And if you can’t definitively eliminate them, you can’t definitively ID them either. The two places where Lewis’ DNA shows up with certainty is on Vetrano’s back and cellphone, odd places considering how vicious the attack was and certainly not enough for a conviction.

“…the Queens DA’s office has been withholding crucial pieces of evidence from the media, including 911 calls and medical records,

So instead of honoring requests from the media to view integral pieces of evidence presented at trial, Judge Michael Aloise has elected to defer those appeals to the Queens DA’s public information office. He gave no reason for the shift which runs counter to the traditional practice of the trial judge being responsible for the release of such information. The DA’s office has thus far denied requests without explanation except for a presumed one: they have something to hide.

How to Make a Scapegoat: Chanel Lewis, Karina Vetrano’s accused killer

If you’re from New York City, you’ve heard the story of Karina Vetrano, the young woman who was found sexually assaulted and strangled in Spring Creek Park. Almost out of the blue, the NYPD have charged 20-year Chanel Lewis with her murder. The minute I looked at the young man, I knew something wasn’t right.

What kind of guilty person gives DNA and a confession without any legal counsel? It’s not clear if Mr. Lewis has any disabilities, but according to the New York Times, he attended a high school for students who, ‘struggle with internal and external factors beyond their control that have contributed to a failure to thrive in school.’ So at the very least, he had to deal with challenges that made attendance in a traditional high school not possible, and perhaps he’s graduation in 2015, remarkable. Since graduating, he wasn’t employed and lived with his mother; no criminal record or disciplinary record in school, so how did police make a connection? Through an anonymous tip? A witness who heard him say something incriminating? Nope. A cop remembered seeing him in the park and thought it was ‘suspicious’. Read the article.

In it, sources are quoted as saying that Lt. John Russo claimed to have seen Lewis back in May, called 911, but the man left before police arrived (so there’s no record that the man he saw was even Mr. Lewis). He alleges that he saw him the next day, and the police arrived in enough time to record the encounter, but nothing more as he was not charged with any wrongdoing. For those of you unfamiliar with being black in Howard Beach, the general rule is-don’t be. If you need evidence: Police recorded an encounter with someone doing NOTHING wrong except being ‘suspicious’ (i.e, black) in a white neighborhood.

Now, with his name in police record, someone calls 911 again and mentions Lewis by name saying that he looks like he was going to break into a Howard Beach home with a crowbar. This is not a neighborhood he lives in and yet the caller knew him by name? Now that is suspicious. Fast forward a couple of months and we now have a viable scapegoat: wrong place at the right time: check; issues of any kind: check; Black: check. What Lewis lacked, however, was criminality. So what happens? Reports of him making threats while in school are reported in the NY Post and the NY Times quotes, Chief Robert Boyce saying, that they found, ‘some things that disturbed us.‘ Ultimately, as the article mentions, the executive director of his school stated that they were no reports of him making threatening statements. Mmmmh…

After tracking him down, police get a DNA sample voluntarily from Lewis and found that his samples were “‘strong profiles’ that matched evidence from the victim’s body and her cellphone”. When DNA matches, you say it matches; when you say anything else, you’re playing semantics and when you’re playing semantics, you’re lying. Chief Boyce also says that Lewis gave ‘detailed incriminating statements,’ but not a confession. Lewis hasn’t entered a plea, but is being held without bail. He currently has legal representation and my hope is that they find evidence that he was somewhere else at the time, not because I want an alleged killer to ‘get away with it,’ but because I believe the evidence was cobbled together and pinned on a vulnerable person to appease people desperate for resolution. Peace of mind is a worthy cause, but at what cost?