Karina Vetrano’s lifeless, battered body was discovered by her father in Spring Creek Park.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Chanel Lewis maintained his innocence Tuesday morning moments before Judge Michael Aloise sentenced the 22-year-old East New York resident to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the August 2016 murder of Karina Vetrano, who was pulled from a Spring Creek Park running path, sexually abused, and strangled to death near her Howard Beach home.
“I just want to say that I’m innocent,” Lewis said. “I’m sorry for the family’s loss, but I didn’t do this.”
Earlier this month, Lewis was convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree intentional murder, second-degree felony murder and first-degree sexual abuse.
According to trial testimony, Vetrano, 30, was alone as she jogged along a path in the park shortly before 6 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2016. Lewis was also in Spring Creek Park. Angry that a neighbor was playing loud music, Lewis was on the pathway where the nearly five-foot-tall victim was running. As the victim jogged past, Lewis punched and grabbed her. Without uttering a single word, Lewis punched the victim in the face, breaking her teeth. He pulled at her clothes exposing both her breast and genitals.
According to trial testimony, the six-foot-tall defendant straddled Vetrano and pressed his knees into her torso and grasped her neck with his hands and squeezed until she could breathe no more. At some point, Lewis dragged her in the weeds and left her body there.
Evidence presented at trial included DNA analysis which showed Lewis’s DNA was present on Vetrano’s neck, her cell phone—which was recovered about 80 feet from the woman’s body—and there was a mixture of Lewis’ DNA on the victim’s fingernails. Lewis’s cell phone records also showed that Lewis’ mobile device pinged from phone towers in the vicinity of the park around the same time that Vetrano was killed.
According to trial testimony, Lewis confessed twice—once to police and a second time to prosecutors. In those recorded interviews, Lewis stated that he was angry at his neighbor and when he saw Vetrano he grabbed her and struck her. “I lost it,” he said. In both recorded confessions, Lewis said he punched the young woman to the point that he broke her teeth and he sustained an open gash on his right hand near his knuckle from hitting the victim repeatedly in the face. Medical records from a doctor’s visit the next day including an x-ray of the hand injury, and a photograph of the hand injury taken from Lewis’s phone were also presented as evidence during the trial.
According to trial testimony, Lewis denied sexually assaulting Vetrano. However, the medical examiner’s autopsy showed bruising and tearing of the victim’s vaginal area as well as bruising to her anus. Further evidence presented during the trial, showed that before Lewis was considered a suspect and after the defendant was interviewed by police, he had done internet searches on his cell phone about Vetrano, the crime and legal information regarding Miranda rights, the Fifth Amendment, double jeopardy and death sentences.
“It is my hope that this sentence gives the family some comfort knowing their loved one’s killer will never see freedom again,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan.