"When They See Us": Queens DA Candidate Lancman Vows To Review Chanel Lewis' Rape-and-Murder Conviction

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Support grows for justice for Lewis.

Two of the candidates for the district attorney position in Queens County have made it clear that they will review the Chanel Lewis bogus rape-and-murder case if elected, with one contender even likening it to the notorious Central Park 5 miscarriage of justice case.

This is a good development.

Hopefully Lewis can get justice and culprits held to account just as the film "When They See Us" by Ava Duvernay has exposed the roles of prosecutors Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein in the so-called Central Park 5 case that victimized five Black teenagers -- Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam. They were wrongfully prosecuted and convicted for raping Trisha Meili, a White woman jogger on April 19,1989 and served several years in prison before they were exonerated by DNA evidence from the actual rapist.

Lederer was the lead prosecutor and Fairstein headed the sex crimes unit in Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau's office. The backlash from "When They See Us" has forced Lederer to resign her post as a law professor at Columbia and Fairstein has been dumped by her book publisher.

In Lewis's case there was no DNA evidence to show rape yet miraculously he was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of Karina Vetrano , a White woman jogger. 

When Lewis’ name was mentioned during this week’s NY1 Spectrum News debate between candidates vying to be the next Queens District Attorney, the comments which followed made it clear they knew Lewis’ conviction was a travesty of justice.  

A few declined to comment on the specifics of the case citing the fact that an appeal is pending. A couple of these candidates, Judge Greg Lasak, in particular, are part of the crooked legal machinery that mass incarcerates Black Americans for the benefit of politics—and profit. Yet, none of them seemed to want to defend the perverted process that prosecuted Lewis.

Councilman Rory Lancman likened the Chanel Lewis case to the Central Park Five.

“This is a case that has all the echoes of another Central Park Five case,” said Lancman. “And I have no problem saying that here and commit to the people of Queens that I will look at this case carefully to make sure that an injustice is not being done." Later in an interview on Hot 97 Radio he doubled down on his comments about the Lewis case and added, "People need to understand that wrongful convictions happen not just because you have a corrupt or venal prosecutor, police officer.  The whole system is built on coercing people to pleading guilty to crimes that they did not commit." 

The Queens County and Staten Island DAs offices were the only ones without Conviction Review units. When councilman Lancman offered to fund such units, the Staten Island DA accepted the proposal and was awarded $500,000. The Queens DA rejected the offer. 

The Black Star News is familiar with racist prosecutions in the Queens DA's office. The newspaper has been covering the on-going malicious prosecution of Queens resident Kris Gounden whose ordeal started in 2007 and continues

Of course, we know an injustice has already been done in the case of Chanel Lewis. He was convicted in a case packed with police and prosecutorial misconduct. There are many troubling things here including: an apparent coerced confession; the probable planting of DNA evidence to show he had contact with Vetrano --yet his DNA was not found in her vagina; the alleged withholding of evidence; reported misbehavior on the jury; and assertions about a biased judge.

Is there any wonder why Lewis was convicted?

Chanel Lewis seems hardly capable of killing a fly given his obvious mental deficits, much less brutally raping and murdering Karina Vetrano. But like the Central Park Five he was obviously coerced by NYPD officers, who seem to have also planted evidence. The police, and prosecutors, often only care about getting a conviction to boost their careers.

The mentally challenged nature of Lewis is clear. Candidate, Betty Lugo, alluded to this saying, "I think that, originally, he should not have stood trial, because he is mentally ill."

While Lugo is somewhat correct, she failed to articulate the primary point here: Lewis’ mental weakness was evidently used by police—and prosecutors—against him. This needs to be clearly stated. Over the last few years, many Americans have witnessed the misconduct police perpetrate against Black people. Yet, prosecutors are often just as racist—if not worse—than police. These people have no qualms about manipulating and hiding pertinent facts that boost their conviction rates—especially, when Blacks are the accused.

Candidate Mina Malik acknowledged the “travesty” of the NYPD “dragnet” that obtained DNA samples from hundreds of Black men.

“One of the travesties that I recognized that happened in this case is that there was actually a dragnet of over 300 Black men whose DNA profiles were taken in connection with this case tested and now kept on file with the local authorities,” said Malik. “And that, I think, to me is an injustice, it is an invasion of privacy, and it is also discriminatory.”

While Ms. Malik is correct, her comments only single out the devious actions of NYPD officers. What about the actions of the Queens DA?

In this case, the Queens DA seems to have hidden several pertinent facts from the Lewis defense team that point to his innocence. Prosecutors were apparently aware the NYPD engaged in this likely unconstitutional DNA “dragnet” collecting samples from between 360 to 384 Black men in Queens and Brooklyn.

As so-called “officers of the court,” why didn’t prosecutors object to this rotten NYPD behavior?

The DNA “dragnet” information isn’t the only thing prosecutors reportedly kept from the Lewis defense team. A letter by an anonymous law enforcement source was also alleged to have been withheld from the defense. That letter said NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Kemper purportedly “stated on several occasions at these meetings” that the NYPD was “looking for two jacked up White guys who are from Howard Beach.”

Of course, if this information wasn’t withheld it would damage the prosecution case. This brings us to a very important point that was made by progressive candidate Tiffany Cabán, who has been endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cabán pointed out the insanity of measuring “success in our district attorneys' offices through numbers of convictions, lengths of sentences, how quickly we can throw people in jail."

Ms. Cabán’s comments here gives insight into the psychology of prosecutors who advance their careers often off the backs of poor Blacks and Latinos. Like police, prosecutors’ performances aren’t based on securing justice. They are based on racking up convictions. And the quality of those convictions doesn’t matter to these morally bankrupt people.

The most obnoxious person seeking to be the Queens DA is Judge Greg Lasak. His actions were pivotal in ensuring the farce we witnessed in the Lewis trial.

Judge Lasak made an important initial ruling in an evidentiary hearing in the Lewis case. He decided he saw nothing wrong with how the NYPD conducted themselves in gathering the “evidence” against Lewis. Judge Lasak pretended not to see the inconsistencies in Lewis’ so-called confessions. There were two different confession statements which contradict one another. These showed signs of how Lewis was seemingly coached in his confessions. But Judge Lasak ruled these “statements were not the product of any police coercion.”  

We should not be surprised then to find out that one of Judge Lasak’s supporters, in his attempt to be the next Queens DA, is none other than Judge Michael Aloise’s wife. According to the Queens Eagle newspaper, Judge Aloise’s wife first contributed to Judge Lasak’s campaign “less than a week before Lewis’ first trial ended in a hung jury.”

Aloise himself should be investigated for his behavior in the Lewis case. Here are a few things to remember about what Judge Aloise did.

Judge Aloise ignored the complaints juror Christopher Gooley made regarding misconduct on the jury. Gooley stated jury foreman, Brian Morrissey, said the case was a “slam dunk” and declared “I made my mind up already. I hope you did too.”

Judge Aloise also disregarded the allegation that “Juror D” said the “vagina is like a sponge” so it “absorbed the male DNA.” This statement was meant to explain the absence of Lewis’s DNA anywhere on or around Vetrano’s private parts.

But none of this bothered Judge Aloise. Some observers even think he orchestrated the initial hung jury because he sensed the prosecution would lose the case—and jeopardy would be attached. City Limits writer, Theodore Hamm, accused Judge Aloise of wearing purple ties in the courtroom to show solidarity with the family of Karina Vetrano.  

And on the day of Lewis’ sentencing Aloise made a provocatively biased statement. He said “In the future, you'll find that the followers of this case would have moved on and you will be alone, but I tell you what, when that day come around, you'll be in a cage."

Indeed, Chanel Lewis is now in a cage. But he isn’t there because he is an animal. Lewis is there because the mass incarceration machine is controlled by dishonest people like Judge Aloise and Judge Lasak.

The Chanel Lewis case is a grotesque example of the inhumanity in this so-called criminal justice system which is corrupted by racism and economics. Let’s not forget this: the so-called prison pipeline produces employment for many Whites—including those living in isolated rural communities. In many of these places, the local prison is often a primary employer. Also, besides having gainful employment off Black suffering, these White communities drain Census dollars from the Black neighborhoods where these prisoners came. Some politicians are also able to boost their constituency by counting these prisoners.

Corporate prison profiteering is another problem here too. For corporations, these prison plantations are an excellent source of cheap labor. Chanel Lewis will now be economically exploited like other Black prisoners. This is the racist game being played against Black America by this White criminal “justice” system.

 

Note: Anyone with any information on the Lewis case please reach me at colin_b30@yahoo.com 

 

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