More than 40,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Queens District Attorney’s Office to review the conviction of Chanel Lewis, who was convicted of the 2016 murder of jogger Karina Vetrano in Howard Beach.
A group of criminal justice advocates turned the online petition over to DA Melinda Katz’s office Tuesday.
The murder of the 30-year-old Howard Beach resident stunned the neighborhood and gained national attention after her body was found sexually assaulted and strangled in Spring Creek Park on Aug. 2, 2016.
Lewis was convicted of Vetrano’s murder in 2019 after his first trial ended in a hung jury. He is now serving a life sentence in prison.
When Katz ran for the DA position in the wake of Lewis’ conviction in the summer of 2019, she was one of several candidates who said that they would review the Lewis case if elected.
The Legal Aid Society filed a notice of appeal that summer to send the case to appellate court. The Second Department of the state Appellate Division granted its motion to continue representing Lewis.
The criminal justice reform advocates calling on the DA’s office to revisit the Lewis verdict have cited an instance of prosecutorial misconduct in a case led by Brad Leventhal, the former homicide bureau chief in the DA’s Office, as a chief reason to reopen the case.
In March this year, the court overturned the convictions of three men charged in a 1996 double murder after Katz’s newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit concluded that trial prosecutors withheld evidence that significantly affected the outcome of the case.
Leventhal, the lead prosecutor on the case, resigned from his position shortly after the conviction was overturned. Leventhal was also in charge of the Lewis case.
Though Southeast Queens legislators called for a review of Leventhal’s other cases afterward, Gothamist reported that Katz had refused to do so because her office found no intentional misconduct took place.
The online petition also raises concerns over the alleged use of racial profiling in Lewis’ initial arrest, a purported violation of penal law involving mid-trial disclosure of significant scientific evidence and claims of coerced confession by the defense.
Prosecutors say Lewis confessed and that his DNA was found on Vetrano’s body.
After the jury reached the guilty verdict in 2019, one of the jurors came forward to make misconduct allegations about how the decision was reached. State Supreme Court Justice Michael Aloise denied a motion to dismiss the verdict due to the allegations and convicted Lewis.
The Chronicle reached out to the District Attorney’s Office about the petition, but a spokesperson declined to comment.
The father of the victim, Phil Vetrano, declined to comment to the Chronicle, but posted on a Howard Beach Facebook group that he would be starting his own petition against revisiting the case and would enlist support from the neighborhood.
“We need to tell [Katz] enough is enough. We need to make as much noise as they do or we will find ourselves living in a nation wide slum,” Vetrano wrote.