NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A judge declared a mistrial late Tuesday in the murder trial of Chanel Lewis, the man accused of killing Queens jogger Karina Vetrano in 2016.
Following a day and a half of deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge saying it was hopelessly deadlocked and had exhausted all thoughts and opinions.
The victim’s family was stunned, with the judge announcing the hung jury to a near-silent courtroom. Several were in tears as they were escorted out.
Lewis, 22, is accused of killing the 30-year-old Vetrano while she was jogging in Spring Creek Park near her family’s home in Howard Beach. If found guilty, he faces up to life in prison. His attorney says the declaration goes to show the evidence presented was far from a slam dunk.
“As we have said since day one, this case is far from conclusive and the jury’s deadlock proves this,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. “The death of Karina Vetrano is tragic and our hearts go out to her family, but the rush to criminalize our client is not the answer nor is it justice. We will continue to fight on behalf of Chanel Lewis at the retrial in January.”
The prosecution and defense teams made their final case to jurors Monday. Previously the jury asked to see several pieces of evidence including a photo of Vetrano’s neck injuries, a DNA report, Lewis’ phone web searches and Vetrano’s and Lewis’ phone records.
The case has gone on for nearly two years and included two weeks of graphic testimony, with both Vetrano’s parents sitting in the courtroom during the trial. On Monday, about three dozen of her family members and friends walked into the building, followed by Lewis’s mother.
Lewis’ defense team claimed the crime scene was not properly preserved and suggesting evidence may have been inadvertently tainted. The defense also said the detectives rushed to judgment and Lewis only confessed because he wanted to go home after waiting hours in an interrogation room.
Last week, there were gasps in the courtroom as Lewis’s legal aid attorney rested their case after calling just one witness. Investigator Jennifer Burke testified for less than 10 minutes and answered a handful of questions about visiting the crime scene.
The most damaging evidence was a videotaped confession from Lewis himself, who told police he was upset with a neighbor when he went to Spring Creek Park, came across Vetrano and “just lost it.”
“This girl jogging… And you know, one thing led to another,” he told investigators. “Hitting her and stuff like that.”
His lawyer has argued the confession was coerced during a six-hour interrogation in isolation.
Prosecutors presented evidence linking Lewis to DNA found on Vetrano’s neck, fingernails and phone.
Jurors also heard from Vetrano’s father, who described when he discovered his daughter’s badly beaten body that had been sexually abused.
Earlier Tuesday, the jury asked to review Lewis’ confession tape among other evidence centered around DNA gathering and analysis during the investigation.
Prosecutors say they’ll move to retry the case following the judge’s decision. Lewis will remain in jail as the case is adjourned until January 22nd, when the two sides will reconvene and figure out how to proceed.