The sentencing of Chanel Lewis, convicted of murder in the strangulation of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, was postponed Wednesday until next week so the court can hear defense allegations of juror misconduct in the case.
Lewis appeared in Queens State Supreme Court to learn the length of his prison term, but Justice Michael Aloise rescheduled the sentencing until Monday.
A jury found Lewis, 22, guilty on April 1 on multiple murder counts in the Aug. 22, 2016, killing of Vetrano, 30, as she jogged alone in a park near her home.
The exact nature of the juror misconduct allegations is unclear because Aloise is keeping the court filings under seal. Defense attorneys for Lewis filed the motion under a section of state criminal procedure law allowing for a motion to set aside a verdict over claims of improper juror conduct.
Prosecutor Brad Leventhal told Aloise that although the defense was claiming jury misconduct, the prosecution had affidavits from three jurors in the case who irrefutably denied that anything inappropriate took place.
Leventhal said he consented to the sentencing adjournment and the hearing so the Vetrano family and the public could see that the jury reached a “clear and correct” verdict. Lewis faces a life sentence without parole following his conviction for first- and second-degree murder and sex abuse.
If he denies the defense motion Monday, Aloise said, he would sentence Lewis on Tuesday. Because of the judge's restrictions on the court documents, neither the Queens district attorney's office nor Lewis' defense attorneys with the Legal Aid Society would comment.
Not mentioned in court was an anonymous letter sent to defense attorneys on the eve of jury deliberations from someone claiming to be a cop and apparently aimed at derailing the trial. The letter, which made arguments sympathetic to the defense, alleged that Lewis was targeted for arrest because he was a black man from East New York. The NYPD vigorously denied the letter’s claims.
Lewis’ first trial, in November, ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict. In the second trial, the jury convicted Lewis after five hours of deliberation. The main evidence in the case was Lewis’ two confessions to investigators and test results that showed it was his DNA found on Vetrano’s neck, cellphone and under her fingernails. The defense maintained his confession was coerced and the DNA was unreliable.
In court Wednesday, Vetrano’s mother, Catherine, who sat with her husband, Philip, and a few friends, made the sign of the cross before Aloise started the brief proceedings. Lewis’ mother, Veta Lewis, who sat with family and friends, read from a Bible.
Vetrano family members had no comment leaving the courtroom. A group of Lewis’ supporters chanted, “Justice for Chanel," and his mother held a Bible over her head as they left the courthouse.