Defense in NYC jogger Karina Vetrano murder case says anonymous letter shows evidence withheld during retrial

Lawyers for the man accused of killing New York City jogger Karina Vetrano will file motions Monday for a last-minute hearing after the defense team said it received a letter alleging prosecutors withheld “exculpatory evidence” about other potential suspects in the murder investigation.

The Legal Aid Society, which is representing Chanel Lewis, said defense lawyers received “troubling and reliable information” about other potential suspects that wasn't turned over prior to the start of the retrial. The information came to light Thursday after the defense received a letter sent by a person claiming to be a police officer, the New York Daily News reported.

Lewis is accused of sexually assaulting and murdering the 30-year-old jogger in August 2016. He was arrested in February 2017 and charged with second-degree murder — but his first trial ended in a hung jury in November.

Chanel Lewis at the defense table at Supreme Court in the Queens Borough of New York for the retrial of Karina Vetrano's murder.

Chanel Lewis at the defense table at Supreme Court in the Queens Borough of New York for the retrial of Karina Vetrano's murder. (AP)

“Over the weekend, reporting confirmed the authenticity of this information and its central allegations, significantly changing the direction of the case,” the Legal Aid Society said in a statement Monday, adding lawyers will be submitting motions for a hearing on the same day jury deliberations were set to begin.

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“We will submit motions seeking a hearing as to the prosecution’s failure to disclose this exculpatory evidence as well as a motion to re-open the pre-trial suppression hearing which addressed the legality of the initial arrest of our client,” the statement continued. “We believe this warrants serious scrutiny. These issues need to be addressed before the jury hears closing arguments in this retrial.”

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge at The Legal Aid Society, said Friday that New York City police approached Lewis “to obtain a DNA swab as part of a race-biased dragnet” while hunting for Vetrano’s killer.

“We learned that the police approached our Mr. Lewis to obtain a DNA swab as part of a race-biased dragnet, which involved the swabbing of over 360 African-American men in Howard Beach and other neighboring sections of Brooklyn and Queens,” Luongo said.

Phillip and Catherine Vetrano, parents of Karina Vetrano, arrive to court in New York, Wednesday.

Phillip and Catherine Vetrano, parents of Karina Vetrano, arrive to court in New York, Wednesday. (AP)

The letter, according to the New York Daily News, also claimed that, after Lewis' arrest, a senior officer said the suspect was “too dimwitted and puny” to have killed Vetrano. It also stated that police did not have a specific justification for stopping Lewis in February 2017 when they obtained the DNA swab that authorities later used to link him to the crime.

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Investigators were also looking for two white men for nearly two weeks until DNA evidence gathered from Vetrano’s body and phone appeared to match a black male, the New York Times reported, citing a person with knowledge of the murder investigation. Detectives were then told to gather DNA samples from black men who were previously arrested near the crime scene.

An NYPD spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News that evidence gathered through the investigation showed Lewis was responsible for Vetrano’s death.

“The NYPD has painstakingly investigated the murder of Karina Vetrano, and as the Queens District Attorney’s prosecution demonstrates, the evidence clearly shows that Chanel Lewis is responsible for her death,” the statement read. “Multiple legal hearings and two criminal trials, over more than two years, have already exhaustively examined the issues in this anonymous, 11th-hour letter, a missive riddled with falsehoods and inaccuracies.”

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Lewis’ attorneys and the Legal Aid Society have previously said their client was coerced into a confession and said his DNA was not found at the crime scene.