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Man convicted of killing woman out running in New York

Man convicted of killing woman out running in New York
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Defendant Chanel Lewis, right, is seated at the defense table at Supreme Court in the Queens Borough of New York, on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, during the sixth day of his re-trial for the murder of Karina Vetrano, who was killed while running along a trail in a local park in August 2016. Lewis previous trial ended in a hung jury. (Charles Eckert/Newsday via AP, Pool)

Published Monday, April 1, 2019 11:50PM EDT

NEW YORK -- A man was convicted Monday of killing a woman out running near her New York City home in a case that stirred urban fears, helped change the state s DNA-investigation rules and raised questions about race and police procedures.

News station video showed Karina Vetrano s loved ones erupting in cheers as a Queens jury delivered in Chanel Lewis retrial, convicting him of murder and sexual abuse in Vetrano s 2016 death. A previous trial ended in a hung jury in November; the second jury deliberated for only five hours, staying into the night to deliberate.

"Jubilation. Justice. Justice has been served," the victim s father, Phil Vetrano, told reporters while leaving court.

Lewis is set to be sentenced April 17 and faces up to life in prison.

Lewis attorneys, the Legal Aid Society, called the outcome "a complete miscarriage of justice." They had unsuccessfully sought a hearing Monday after getting an anonymous letter saying that police had pursued two white suspects before taking DNA samples from hundreds of black men -- in what the defence called a "race-biased dragnet" -- and coming to focus on Lewis.

"Our client did not receive a fair trial," the Legal Aid Society said, adding that it would appeal.

The New York Police Department said in a statement that the anonymous letter was "riddled with falsehoods and inaccuracies," the investigation was painstaking and "the evidence clearly shows that Chanel Lewis is responsible for her death."

Chief Queens Assistant District Attorney John Ryan called the case "horrifying."

Phil Vetrano found his 30-year-old daughter s body, sexually abused and strangled, in August 2016 in a park where they often went for runs together.

The attack redoubled the wariness of women who run alone, and it baffled investigators for a time. Lewis, 22, was arrested six months later.

Authorities said his DNA was found on Vetrano s neck and cellphone and in a mixture of DNA under her fingernails. His own phone contained downloaded photos of the crime scene and searches for information about the case, police said.

And Lewis taped a confession, saying he was upset at someone else -- a neighbour of his who played loud music -- and "lost it" when he saw Vetrano.

"One thing led to another," he said in the confession. "Hitting her and stuff like that."

Lewis said he strangled Vetrano but didn t sexually abuse her.

Lewis defence said that the DNA evidence hadn t been gathered properly and that the confession was coerced and didn t match Vetrano s injuries or some other facts.

The state Commission on Forensic Science ultimately agreed in June 2017 to allow familial DNA searching in murder, rape and some other cases. The decision came over the objections of civil libertarians who said the practice entangles law-abiding people in investigations because of their family ties.

By the time the commission gave its approval, Lewis had already been arrested.

In this Aug. 6, 2016, file photo, mourners carry the casket of Karina Vetrano from St. Helen s Church following her funeral in the Howard Beach section of the Queens borough of New York. (Steven Sunshine/Newsday via AP)
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News station video showed Karina Vetrano’s loved ones erupting in cheers as a Queens jury delivered in Chanel Lewis’ retrial, convicting him of murder and sexual abuse in Vetrano’s 2016...
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A Queens jury delivered its verdict Monday night in Chanel shuh NEHL’ Lewis’ retrial, convicting him of murder in Karina Vetrano’s death. A previous trial ended in a hung jury. In...
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In this March 26, 2019 file photo, defendant Chanel Lewis, right, attends his retrial at Supreme Court in the Queens Borough of New York. Charles Eckert/Newsday via AP, Pool, File...
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Mourners carry the casket of Karina Vetrano from St. Helen s Church following her funeral in the Howard Beach section of the Queens borough of New York on Aug. 6,...
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Mourners carry the casket of Karina Vetrano from St. Helen s Church following her funeral in the Howard Beach section of the Queens borough of New York on Aug. 6,...