Is This What Blind Justice Means? Chanel Lewis Case Mirrors Central Park Five Railroading

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Judge Aloise. NY1 Twitter Photo. 
 
[Speaking Truth To Empower]
 
On Monday, Queens State Supreme Court Justice Michael Aloise will be deciding whether to grant the motion of Chanel Lewis’ defense team, to set aside the verdict because of misconduct—by three jurors.
 
The judge must decide if two jurors acted as “expert” witnesses, by influencing other jurors to convict Chanel Lewis, in his second trial, of murdering Karina Vetrano, in 2016. He must also decide whether a third Juror—the jury Foreman—engaged in “premature deliberations,” as the Lewis defense alleges in their motion to vacate the conviction.
 
The Black Star News is currently reviewing the Chanel Lewis case. We’re deeply troubled by the allegations of misconduct purportedly done by these three jurors—including a rape survivor who allegedly used her experience to influence this jury to convict. The allegations here illustrate why the late Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney Ken Thompson was correct in reviewing cases of Black men who were railroaded into prison in New York. More than two dozen wrongfully-convicted people were later exonerated. If New York had the death penalty some of them could now be six feet under.
 
On Monday, Judge Aloise will determine the fate of 22-year-old Lewis who was convicted April 1, of the August 2, 2016 murder of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano. Lewis's first trial ended in a hung jury last November 21. The Lewis defense has made serious allegations against three jurors in this last case, because of a sworn affidavit by another juror, who alleges three jurors engaged in jury misconduct. It is inconceivable a fair-minded judge would not, at the very least, further investigate the accusations being made against these jurors.
 
If this isn’t done it would be another example of racial injustice in America’s judicial system. The Black Star News reviewed a copy of Chanel Lewis’ defense motion to vacate the conviction—called a 330 motion. We also reviewed the prosecution’s response. Lewis’ defense motion contains serious allegations of juror misconduct involving three jurors: Juror B, Juror C and Juror D. Another juror, Juror A, testified on an affidavit, about the alleged misconduct of the aforementioned jurors.
 
The motion details several alleged aspects of the jurors' misconduct. One of the most serious allegations in the Lewis’ defense motion is related to the sexual assault charges and what two jurors said. Juror C allegedly used this juror's experience in another unrelated case, to determine that Vetrano had been the victim of rape. The defense motion also states, "According to Juror A's Affidavit, Juror C used evidence and testimony in the unrelated rape case, where the Defendant was convicted of rape to evaluate the likelihood of sexual assault in this trial."
 
The alleged comments of a second juror, D, are even much more explosive.
 
According to the motion by Lewis's defense attorneys, citing Juror A: “Juror D used her personal experience as a rape victim to persuade the others that the People met their burden to prove the sexual abuse charge. Juror D stated to the jury that the absence of Defendant’s DNA in the victim’s private swabs (specifically from the vagina, perianal, and anal cavities) could be explained because the vagina is like a sponge or vacuum—it had absorbed the male DNA." The defense filing adds: "However, this explanation is factually incorrect and not supported by trial evidence. Juror D’s explanation regarding the absence of DNA linking the Defendant to the victim’s internal cavities, bolstered by an aura of expertise arising from her unique prior experience, was communicated to the rest of the panel. This communication constituted juror misconduct because she became an unsworn 'expert' on behalf of the People.”
 
Juror D also allegedly told Juror A that she knows better because "‘you’re a man, I’ve been raped.'” The Lewis defense motion also states “two jurors’ use of their own unique experiences was not within the common ken [one’s range of knowledge] of juror experience and knowledge concerning a material issue in the case. They communicated information to the rest of the jury with the force of private, untested truth as though it was evidence. In essence, they became the unsworn witnesses on behalf of the People, which prejudice the defendant and deprived him of a fair trial.”
 
Brad Leventhal, the Assistant Queens County D.A prosecuting the case claims in his filing in opposition to Lewis's lawyers that “neither juror presented themselves as a professional expert” because “neither juror conducted an investigation or experiment. Neither juror repeated information they had gotten from an outside professional or expert.”
 
This is of course preposterous. It's interesting that the D.A. doesn't deny that the statements were made. What was the purpose of the statements? Of course it was to influence the verdict; and, in each case, the individuals who allegedly made it did in fact claim knowledge beyond the scope of the other jurors. If the judge had been made aware of the alleged statements prior to the verdict it's hard to imagine that he would have taken no action.  
 
Leventhal’s technical specificity about what can be considered “expert” or “professional” misses the point. Is the D.A. saying because these jurors aren’t government officials they couldn’t have acted as de facto experts?
 
There’s another obvious question here: should a rape victim have been allowed to be a juror on this case in the first place? Did the prosecution seat her because they figured it was highly probable a rape survivor would vote to convict in a rape case? The allegation made by this rape survivor that the “vagina is like a sponge” that “absorbed the male DNA” allows us the opportunity to examine another fact that points toward Lewis’ innocence.
 
Those who’ve observed Lewis for any length of time know that he is, at best, mentally challenged. Yet, the NYPD and Queens’ prosecutors would have us believe they matched Lewis DNA to Ms. Vetrano—but, somehow, none of Lewis’ DNA was found anywhere around, or inside, Vetrano’s private parts? How plausible is that?
 
We’re to believe Lewis was smart enough not to leave his DNA inside her; but dumb enough to allow them to take his DNA? 
 
The defense filings reveal that at least some jurors were more bothered by the absence of Lewis's DNA in the murder victim's private parts than were the NYPD and Queens prosecutors. Earlier this week, Assemblyman Charles Barron told The Black Star News he believes the NYPD used “The DNA that they swabbed” from Lewis to set him up, “because they can plant your DNA anywhere, and that’s what I believe happened here.”
 
Another allegation in the defense document is that: Juror B engaged in “premature deliberation.” Juror B was identified in the Queens prosecution response as the “foreperson.” According to the defense filing Juror B told Juror A "…well, I have my mind made up and I hope you do too…"
 
According to the defense's motion, “If the Affidavit is true, Juror B failed to heed the Court’s strict and repeated admonitions not to form an opinion about the guilt of the Defendant or speak to anyone about the case until the case was submitted to the jury for their deliberations. The comments to the jury panel in the jury room after each witnesses’ testimony, along with the specific statements to Juror A after the testimony of the victim’s parents showed that Juror B did not follow the Court’s instructions and prejudged the case well before the close of the People’s case and summations. He commenced deliberations with a predisposition towards guilt.”
 
D.A. Leventhal in his written response to the defense's motion says, “It is not alleged that the Foreperson said he believed the defendant was guilty. Instead, they were amorphous. Furthermore, the, Juror# 4 [Juror A in defense motion] has not averred that he was influenced into voting guilty by any of the foreperson’s comments. This in itself militates in favor of denying the motion.”
 
Leventhal’s arguments are not convincing.
 
What is Leventhal's rush to the extent that he does not want these serious allegations to be carefully examined? He obviously wants to secure a conviction at all cost. Just as the prosecution wanted to --and did-- in the Central Park Five case.
 
With respect to Leventhal's last claim, he says because Juror A wasn’t influenced to find Lewis guilty there is no harm done. But what about the influence of this foreperson’s conduct on other jurors, especially, given the fact he was the foreperson?
 
The defense motion also alleges that the foreperson “ripped up” a communication written by Juror A, intended for Judge Aloise, raising questions about aspects of the case. The foreperson was concerned the question would extend the jury  deliberations.
 
To this, Leventhal says, in his written response, “The Affidavit submitted by Juror 4—Juror A in the defense motion—does not establish that he was prevented from communicating with the Court.” Leventhal says the complaining juror never stated he was “physically threatened” in his affidavit, and there was nothing that “in any way prevented him from telling one of the court officers that he wished to give a note to the Court.”
 
Does this sound like a man who values the life of Lewis and believes he's entitled to a fair trial?
 
Assistant D.A. Leventhal stated he has three jurors to rebut the statements of Juror A who alleges misconduct. The Black Star News called the Queen’s D.A.'s office and asked whether these three rebuttal jurors are in fact the very same three jurors accused of misconduct. 

The D.A’s spokesperson dodged the question claiming Judge Aloise had issued a gag order.

 
The unfortunate truth here is many of these prosecutors don’t care about justice. To many of them the lives of people—especially, Black people—represent "wins" and "losses." 
 
Judge Aloise is also familiar with shenanigans by the Queens D.A.'s office. In April, 2018, after NYPD Detective Kevin Desormeau was found guilty of false arrest and for lying to a grand jury,  Judge Aloise sentenced him to three years probation and fined him $500. 
 
However Aloise rebuked the Queens D.A. for using untrustworthy witness to win the case. He said he was not giving Desormeau jail time because "I will not become complicit in the district attorney's hypocrisy by incarcerating you."
 
Because Chanel Lewis has mental issues, he is an easy target to be preyed upon by police and prosecutors who need another victory notch on their belts. 
 
Hopefully Judge Aloise will do the right thing and balance the defendant's right to a fair trial against the D.A.'s rush to have Lewis incarcerated.
 
Editor's Note: The writer can be contacted via colin_b30@yahoo.com
 
The number for the Queens courthouse is 718-286-600 and the hotline number is 718-286-6580.
 
 
 

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