Victim Karina Vetrano and her dad, Phil
By Michael V. Cusenza
Four months after the initial proceeding ended suddenly with the declaration of a mistrial, a jury has convicted Chanel Lewis in the vicious strangulation death of Karina Vetrano, who was killed in August 2016 while she jogged in Spring Creek Park near her Howard Beach home, Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan, on behalf of Queens DA Richard Brown, announced on Monday.
The three-week trial culminated in a verdict delivered Monday night after just five hours of deliberations. Lewis, 22, was found guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree intentional murder, second-degree felony murder, and first-degree sexual abuse.
According to trial testimony, Vetrano was jogging alone in Spring Creek Park shortly before 6 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2016. Lewis, angered by a neighbor of his East New York residence playing loud music, also ventured into the federal green space. Lewis encountered Vetrano, 30, jogging toward him and he attacked her.
According to trial testimony, Lewis straddled Vetrano, pressed his knees into her torso, clasped his hands around her neck and squeezed. Evidence presented at trial included DNA analysis which showed Lewis’ DNA was present on Vetrano’s neck and cell phone, which was recovered about 80 feet from her body. Lewis’ DNA was included in a mixture of genetic material under Vetrano’s fingernails. Lewis’ cell phone data also showed that it “pinged” from phone towers in the vicinity of the park around the same time that Vetrano was killed.
Additionally, according to trial testimony, Lewis confessed to police and in a second interview with prosecutors. In those interviews, Lewis stated how angry he was at his neighbor and when he saw Vetrano he grabbed her and struck her. In both video recorded confessions, Lewis said he punched Vetrano, broke her teeth, and during the beating his right hand near his knuckle split open and bled. Records from a doctor’s visit the day after the murder, along with a photograph and X-ray of the hand injury taken from Lewis’ phone, were both presented as evidence.
Further evidence presented during the trial showed that before he was arrested or even considered to be a suspect, Lewis had done internet searches on his cell phone about the victim, the crime, and legal information on Miranda rights, the Fifth Amendment, double jeopardy, and death sentences.
Vetrano family supporters erupted in elation in the courtroom after the verdict was read.
“[Lewis] will pay for his sins in this life but more importantly in the next,” Karina’s dad, Phil, wrote on Tuesday on the Karina Vetrano Memorial Reward Fund GoFundMe page. “He will meet Karina again and this time she won’t be bushwhacked. She will be standing alongside [Angels] Michael and Gabriel and as he passes them on his way down he will be dealt with accordingly. I thank you all for being there for us from the beginning. Now for the first time in 3 years we are in a new position. I don’t know what to expect but at least we have a monster off the street.”
Sentencing has been set for April 17. Lewis faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.