July 14, 2021 By Allie Griffin
More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling on Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz to reopen a case in which a Black man was convicted for the murder of a woman in Howard Beach.
The petition-signers believe that Chanel Lewis who was found guilty of the 2016 murder and sexual assault of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano was wrongfully convicted and is in fact innocent.
Supporters of Lewis and advocates from local nonprofits marched to the Queens District Attorney’s Office Tuesday and delivered the petition, which demands that the newly-formed Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) open an investigation into Lewis’ case.
“Katz has previously indicated that her office would ‘look at’ the case and ‘see how the conviction integrity unit feels about it’…,” the petition states. “While Melinda Katz’s office takes the time to determine how they ‘feel’ about evaluating whether they may have convicted the wrong person and violated Chanel Lewis’ legal rights, Lewis is suffering.”
They want Lewis, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole, to be released on bail during such an investigation.
If you were outraged by what was done to the Exonerated Five and horrified by the tactics used to imprison them, you need to know Chanel Lewis’ case is no different. Mr. Lewis was wrongfully convicted after multiple acts of police and prosecutor misconduct. pic.twitter.com/pq6RnWL0jx
— Tiffany Cabán (@tiffany_caban) July 14, 2021
Tiffany Cabán, a former candidate for Queens district attorney, attended the protest in support of Lewis Tuesday.
“For the first time the Queens DA’s Office has a CIU but that means nothing if the bounds of that unit uphold a system that provides cover for bad actors,” Cabán said at the protest.
A jury found Lewis, who was 22 at the time, guilty of the murder of Vetrano in 2019 during a second trial after his first trial ended in a hung jury.
Vetrano was attacked, sexually assaulted and strangled to death as she went on a jog through a park near her home in Howard Beach on Aug. 2, 2016.
Prosecutors in the case said DNA evidence found on Vetrano’s body matched that of Lewis, but the defense said the DNA was improperly collected.
Supporters say that Lewis is not the killer. They believe his case was mishandled by the prosecution and have accused the NYPD of racial profiling.
Lewis — whom the petition describes as “intellectually disabled” — originally confessed to the crime before pleading not guilty in court. His supporters say his confession was coerced by police.
A spokesperson for the Queens District Attorney’s Office declined to comment about the case at this time.
Color of Change demands that @QueensDAKatz refer Chanel Lewis’ case to the Conviction Integrity Unit.
The CIU can open an investigation when there’s “a credible claim of actual innocence or other wrongful conviction.” In Chanel Lewis’ case, multiple factors meet that criteria.
— ColorOfChange (@ColorOfChange) July 12, 2021