A Queens judge denied Thursday a request by prosecutors to use evidence of internet searches about pornography and forcible rape from the cellphone of the alleged killer of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, officials said.
But State Supreme Court Judge Michael Aloise said he would allow prosecutors to use records of a hospital visit by the defendant, Chanel Lewis, 22, the day after the killing in which he sought treatment for a hand injury, something prosecutors maintain is evidence of the attack, said a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Last month, prosecutor Brad Leventhal said he wanted to use the cellphone evidence — seized with a search warrant when Lewis was charged in Vetrano's death in February 2017 — to show a sexual motive for the attack in Spring Creek Park. Leventhal also wants to use the hospital records about what he described as a “classic boxer injury.” In his confession, Lewis admitted punching Vetrano in the mouth, investigators said.
In court Thursday, Aloise didn’t elaborate on the reason for his ruling. Defense attorneys with the Legal Aid Society, who are representing Lewis, had earlier objected to the use of internet searches because it was an effort by prosecutors to show Lewis had a tendency to commit the crime.
Aloise kept Oct. 29 as the start of jury selection with opening statements expected in early November. Aloise took over the case last month after the retirement of Judge Gregory Lasak.
Vetrano, 30, an avid jogger, was found strangled and beaten on the night of Aug. 2, 2016. Police said Vetrano was attacked as she jogged in the park. A foreign object was also used in the sexual assault against her, police said.
An extensive police search for her killer followed but didn’t turn up any significant leads pointing toward a suspect. A search by detectives of NYPD stop reports eventually led them to Lewis after one showed officers questioned him in Howard Beach months before the killing after reports of a man loitering in the neighborhood. Lewis wasn’t charged with any offense at the time but gave cops his name and address.
Lewis, of East New York, faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual abuse and other criminal charges after police said DNA evidence found on Vetrano’s body matched a sample Lewis voluntarily gave to police. Lewis also gave a statement describing how he assaulted Vetrano, strangling her and breaking one of her teeth, police said.