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Judge rejects allegations of jury misconduct in jogger murder case

The ruling clears the way for the sentencing on Tuesday of Chanel Lewis, convicted of killing jogger Karina Vetrano in Howard Beach.

Chanel Lewis, right, was found guilty in the

Chanel Lewis, right, was found guilty in the murder of Karina Vetrano, left, on April 1. Photo Credit: Karina Vetrano; James Carbone

Chanel Lewis, convicted of murder for strangling Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, is expected to be sentenced Tuesday after a judge rejected a last-ditch attempt by the Brooklyn man's attorneys to get the guilty verdict tossed.

Defense allegations of juror irregularities before the April 1 verdict failed to convince Queens State Supreme Court Judge Michael Aloise during a two-hour hearing Monday.  Lewis faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

A jury convicted Lewis, 22, of first- and second-degree murder, as well as sexual abuse at his retrial for the August 2016 killing of Vetrano, 30, as she jogged alone in a park near her home. His first trial in November ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict.

Aloise said Monday a formal written ruling on the misconduct issue would be forthcoming.

Vetrano’s parents, Catherine and Philip, as well as her siblings, Tana and Edward, are scheduled to give victim impact statements Tuesday during what promises to be an emotional sentencing proceeding.

Under New York appellate precedents, Lewis’s defense attorneys had an uphill battle in trying to get the verdict set aside on juror misconduct grounds. Their main ammunition  were an affidavit and court testimony Monday from Juror No. 4, identified in court as Christopher Gooley, 31, a theatrical producer and actor.

Gooley had earlier given the defense an affidavit with a number of allegations against other jurors. In the affidavit, Gooley said Juror No. 1, the jury foreman, told him after Vetrano’s parents testified that his mind was made up. One of the female jurors, Juror No. 9, said she had been a rape victim, Gooley said in the affidavit, and expressed her opinion about DNA evidence in sex cases. Another juror expressed his opinion about what he had seen in a Bronx rape trial three decades earlier, according to the affidavit, and Juror No. 1 thwarted Gooley’s effort to communicate with Aloise about his concerns.

After being called Monday as a witness by the defense, and under cross examination by Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal, Gooley made a number of admissions that appeared to undercut defense arguments. Leventhal also introduced testimony from jurors 9 and 3 and had three more jurors waiting to testify. Juror No. 1 submitted an affidavit saying he didn’t recall speaking to Gooley or anyone else about his state of mind.

Under questioning by Leventhal, Gooley acknowledged that Juror No. 1's remarks didn’t affect his decision to convict Lewis and that he had not told anyone that he had felt pressured. Gooley also admitted that when he and other jurors were polled after the verdict, each panelist acknowledged voting to convict.

Asked by Leventhal if he had told prosecutors in a meeting at the Carle Place Diner recently that he was worried he might be perceived as a racist for being on the jury, Gooley answered, “I might have said that.” 

Leventhal argued to Aloise later in court that Gooley was concerned about how he was perceived in the “liberal theater community.”

Juror No. 9, a woman, testified she was never raped. Juror No. 3, a man, testified that Gooley answered “yes” when asked during deliberations if he was comfortable with the verdict just before it was announced in court.

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