Chanel Lewis admits to killing Queens jogger Karina Vetrano in rage-filled attack; police say he had hatred for women
Cops arrest Chanel Lewis, suspect in Karina Vetrano murder
NY Daily News
BY Rocco Parascandola Laura Dimon Reuven Blau Leonard Greene
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Sunday, February 5, 2017, 10:33 PM
She wasn’t being stalked or targeted. It was just that jogger Karina Vetrano was a woman, and the man accused of killing her hated women.
Chanel Lewis was filled with lethal rage when he grabbed Vetrano as she went for a summer evening run in Queens, according to authorities. He raped her and strangled the petite runner, they said, and left her body in weeds.
And then he vanished for six months.
Detectives had little to work with to find the man who crossed Vetrano’s path. She scratched him and captured some of his DNA, but he had no record so no match could be made. The randomness of the attack added to the difficulty of solving the crime. It took months of searching the area and records, a cop’s suspicions, to finally land Lewis.
When they did, one source said, the East New York man cracked.
“He was pretty forthcoming once he was in custody,” a law enforcement source told the Daily News about Lewis, 20.
Detectives escort Chanel Lewis, 20, from the NYPD's 107th Precinct on Sunday in Queens. (James Keivom/New York Daily News)
“He gave a detailed incriminating account of what happened — but he doesn’t really explain why it happened. It was a very random thing. He just came up on her and acted out. There wasn’t any conversation. It was a chance encounter. There was no reason to believe he was stalking her. He just happened to come up on her.”
Hours after Lewis was arrested Saturday evening outside his home in East New York, a profile began to emerge of one of the most wanted and unsuspecting men in the city.
Lewis had been in a little trouble with the law, receiving several summonses in Howard Beach not far from the crime scene.
But there was nothing that left a likely suspect trail, or screamed out rapist. Or murderer.
“He doesn’t have a criminal record,” a source said. “But he’s had previous incidents in which he has expressed a hatred for women. He’s thought of hurting women or attacking women. He’s expressed a deep-seated aggression towards women. But it was nothing he’s ever acted on.”
(New York Daily News)
Until Aug. 2, officials said.
That was the night the 30-year-old Vetrano disappeared after leaving for a jog through Spring Creek Park near her Howard Beach home.
Her father, Phil Vetrano, found her lifeless body face down amid towering weeds about 15 feet off the desolate path while helping police search for her.
The heartbroken dad said he always reasoned the murder was a chance encounter.
“We kind of knew that,” Vetrano said. “It was impossible for anyone to follow her in there. It had to be a random, wrong place, at the wrong time. She was unlucky that day.”
Karina Vetrano's parents: "The demon must get his justice"
NY Daily News
Vetrano put up a furious fight, authorities said.
The slaying sparked a massive manhunt that yielded few clues.
In the days and weeks following her killing, Vetrano’s parents made a series of impassioned pleas for someone to turn in the perpetrator.
Police recovered the murderer’s DNA from Vetrano’s body and cell phone, but the sample didn’t match anyone in either the New York or national DNA databases of convicted criminals.
Cops also cobbled together a sketch of a “person of interest” seen in the park around the time of the murder, but it failed to produce a break in the case.
Karina Vetrano, 30, was raped and strangled as she ran through Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach. (Instagram)
Then Lt. John Russo, who works in the Chief of Detectives office and also lives in Howard Beach, remembered something.
Russo had seen Lewis lurking around parked cars in Howard Beach in late May. Russo called 911, as did another resident who saw Lewis holding a crowbar and skulking around someone’s backyard. When patrol officers arrived, Lewis was gone. The following day, Russo spotted Lewis again, and cops arrived to question him.
Months later, Russo was immersed in the Vetrano murder case, poring over leads, tips, and investigative files.
“He was spending a lot of time every single day trying to figure out what was missing,” said the person familiar with the matter. Then he remembered the guy creeping around the neighborhood three months before Vetrano was killed.
“It occurred to him that (Lewis) was someone they should look at,” the law enforcement source said. The call about a “suspicious person” hanging around the area ultimately led to the break police needed.
Karina Vetrano's parents stand inside their house Sunday following the arrest. (Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News)
A day after Vetrano was killed, Lewis went to the SUNY Downstate emergency room, saying he had been hit in the head by a group of muggers, said his father, Richard Lewis, who supplied the Daily News with his son’s medical records from the visit. The hospital papers showed Chanel Lewis suffered a hand injury.
Cops arrested the unemployed Lewis around 6 p.m. Saturday outside his home. They had approached him on Thursday, and Lewis voluntarily submitted a DNA sample when cops interviewed him, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said. The sample came back as a match to the DNA found under Vetrano’s fingernails as well as on her back and cell phone, Boyce said.
Police later discovered that Lewis had been hit with three summonses — dating to 2013 — near the Howard Beach crime scene.
“This is a great day for the community and the detectives that worked day in and day out and of course it will hopefully bring some closure to the Vetrano family,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown told reporters gathered Sunday morning for a press conference inside the 106th Precinct stationhouse.
Lewis’ family was in reeling over the arrest.
Police stand outside a home along Essex Street where the suspect is believed to have lived. (Todd Maisel/New York Daily News)
“He’s a humble kid,” said his 70-year-old father, a retired elementary school teacher. “It’s extremely surprising ... he’s not the person for that.”
Chanel Lewis lives with his mother, Veta Lewis, and two sisters who have young children of their own, he added.
The senior Lewis heard about the arrest during a television segment.
“They put the name up there,” he said.
His son went to high school in Rockaway Park, where he did well academically, according to his father. He ultimately wanted to work in social services, the dad added.
Karina Vetrano was found dead in the marshes near 161st Ave. and 78th St. in Howard Beach. (Marcus Santos/New York Daily News)
Lewis was arraigned Sunday in Queens Criminal Court, and he was remanded without bail. Cops outfitted him with a bullet-proof vest for his trip to court.
Nearly 20 members of Vetrano’s family, as were several members of Lewis’ family, including the suspect’s father, gathered in the courtroom.
There, they heard Assistant DA Michael Curtis describe the “extraordinarily brutal crime.”
“The victim was out for a jog less than one mile from her house and was attacked, savagely beaten and strangled to death,” Curtis said. “This defendant admitted to attacking the victim, admitted to beating her, to strangling her and dragging her body into the weeds.
DNA links this defendant to scene of the crime.”
Lewis was charged with second-degree murder.
Cops described the suspect as 6 feet tall and 140 pounds.
After Lewis was arraigned, the victim’s mother, Cathie, screamed out, and family members had to hold her back. Vetrano’s family and the NYPD had used the case to push for the state to allow familial DNA testing, which could create partial matches with criminals’ relatives.