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Lawyers for Accused Vetrano Killer Drop Insanity Plea After Psych Exam

By Katie Honan | October 5, 2017 1:35pm
 The lawyers for Chanel Lewis will focus on the DNA evidence in the case of the August 2016 murder.
The lawyers for Chanel Lewis will focus on the DNA evidence in the case of the August 2016 murder.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

HOWARD BEACH — Lawyers for the man accused of killing jogger Karina Vetrano in the weeds behind her home last year will withdraw their insanity defense for the accused killer because psychiatric evaluations found that he wasn't legally insane.

The attorneys for Chanel Lewis will instead focus on the DNA evidence in the case and analyze the full DNA profile taken from him, as well as the more than 150 other people swabbed by police as they searched for Vetrano's killer. 

"He does have some mental issues, but it's not enough to make a legal statement," lawyer Robert Moeller said after Lewis appeared in Queens Criminal Court Thursday.

Psychiatrists met with Lewis multiple times on Rikers Island, where he's been since his February arrest. But their evaluations found he wasn't "at that point" for an insanity plea, the lawyer said.

"It doesn't mean he doesn't have problems. He's got issues. He's got issues from way back," Moeller said, without elaborating. "It's just not at the level of legal insanity for the defense."

Pulling the insanity plea shocked prosecutors, with Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal telling Judge Gregory Lasak he "really wasn't expecting this."

DNA experts from the Legal Aid Society will analyze the full DNA profile for Lewis, which the defense team requested at the last court hearing. The state's medical examiner's office released his full profile, which will allow his lawyers to create their own profile, Moeller said. 

Lewis's attorney has also requested the full DNA profiles of the more than 150 other people of interest who were swabbed by police.

Police questioned "anyone in the vicinity [of the murder scene] around that time" who had received summonses or had been stopped for swabs, Moeller said, noting investigators "were knocking on doors."

He also casted doubt on his client's confession to police, saying it was given after "nearly 24 hours" in police custody.

Pre-trial hearings for the murder case will begin on Nov. 20.