KEW GARDENS, Queens — It’s a murder mystery that kept the city on edge for months, until an arrest and evidence pointed to one person accused of the killing and sexual abuse of Karina Vetrano. That suspect’s trial ended in a hung jury late Tuesday, leaving many people, including the victim’s family, wondering how the mistrial happened, and why.
The victim’s father, Phil Vetrano, kepy any musings about the situation under wraps on Wednesday. He was spotted leaving his home in Howard Beach late Wednesday morning, a block from Spring Creek Park, where his daughter was last seen alive on the evening of Aug. 2, 2016.
On Wednesday, Mr. Vetrano went jogging, apparently near the same route on which his daughter had been killed. Asked if he wanted to say something, his response was terse.
“Absolutely not,” he said to a small group of reporters, in front of his house.
His very brief comment came about 14 hours after Courtroom 190 in State Supreme Court in Queens was rocked by a bombshell development.
After the jury in the murder and sex abuse trial of Chanel (pronounced “Channel”) Lewis, 22, could not break a deadlock, the judge granted defense lawyers’ request for a mistrial declaration.
It mystified the dozens of observers in the courtroom, but one long-standing legal expert, who’d checked in on the trial in person during its nearly three-week run, had insights about it on Wednesday.
Members of a jury, said attorney Marvyn Kornberg, 83, “have their own experiences, and then you never know what's going to happen. You just can't predict what a jury's going to do.”
Kornberg speaks from experience. In six decades, he’s tried and won more cases in Queens Courts than possibly any living attorney. He maintains a very active practice directly across the street from the courthouse, on Queens Boulevard.
Kornberg pointed out that this jury was almost evenly split, by a vote of seven to five. That vote was in spite of evidence against Lewis that included his DNA having been found on Karina Vetrano's phone and neck, as well as two video-recorded confessions by him.
However, defense lawyers argued that the confessions were coerced, and that the DNA evidence may have been compromised, when Karina Vetrano’s father tainted the crime scene, when he led investigators to his daughter’s body.
Also, Lewis had said in his confessions that Vetrano's halter top was a different color than what she had actually worn when she was killed. He also said that he'd drowned her in a puddle, but her death was officially determined to have been by strangulation. Those factors combined left enough reasonable doubt to cause a hung jury.
“The jury heard it, and couldn't make a decision,” said one of Lewis’s attorneys, Robert Moeller, minutes after the mistrial was declared.
And now, the veteran attorney is saying the situation will focus on next steps. Central to both sides’ approach, said Kornberg, will be a close analysis of the make up of the jury.
“I'd try to find out why they voted how they voted, then try to correct it for the next trial,” he told PIX11 News. "It happens all the time. The defense is going to do the same thing.”
Kornberg pointed out that the jury had been noticeably young, ethnically diverse (seven of the twelve jurors were people of color), and had seven women and five men.
Kornberg’s assessment was that the retrial, slated to begin its calendaring process Jan. 22, will have a different feel to it.
“You're going to have [prosecutors] try to get an entirely different type of jury than they had in this case,” Kornberg said.
For starters he added, “the People will try” and seat a jury “ten years” on average older than the one in the mistrial. Its median age was estimated to be in the mid-30s.