NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A man was arrested and charged Sunday in connection to the murder of Queens jogger Karina Vetrano.
Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York, Brooklyn, was taken into custody for police questioning on Saturday, six months and two days after the Queens jogger’s death. He was charged with second-degree murder and was arraigned and ordered held without bail Sunday evening.
“Lewis was interviewed by detectives and made detailed, incriminating statements and admissions,” Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.
Lewis said nothing as he was led out of the 107th Precinct station house and put in a police car to go to court. He likewise said nothing as he appeared before a judge in Queens Criminal Court.
But Assistant District Attorney Michael Curtis said that in a videotaped confession, Lewis admitted to beating Vetrano in the face and head, strangling her, and leaving her body in the weeds.
As 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported, Karina Vetrano’s mother, Cathy Vetrano, clearly looked distraught as she sat on the edge of the court looking at the suspect.
As Lewis was left out of the courtroom, Cathy Vetrano said! “Savage murderer! He murdered my daughter – my beautiful, innocent daughter!”
As CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, Vetrano’s parents were still fuming as they left court.
“He’s a demon! He’s a demon!” said Cathy Vetrano.
Outside the courthouse, the defendant’s father, Richard Lewis, said his son was a great guy.
“I know him. I know the person. I know him well. I know him well,” Lewis said.
Lewis has no prior criminal history – just three summonses. As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, police said that is why he stayed under the radar for half a year while police were persistent and creative.
Lewis’ arrest concluded an exhaustive six-month search. Police conducted what they call a deep dive – checking every complaint of suspicious activity in the area, and then keying in on a 911 call from a resident last May – three months before Vetrano, 30, was slain as she jogged in a marshy section of Howard Beach.
Armed with that information that Lewis frequented the area and aroused suspicion, investigators on Thursday went to an apartment on Essex Street in East New York, Brooklyn where the unemployed Lewis lives with his mother and they questioned him.
Lewis gave investigators a DNA sample, and police said the results came back on Saturday link him to the killing. Lewis was then arrested.
“Karina helped us identify this person,” Boyce said. “She had the DNA under her nails, she had touch DNA on her back and there was more DNA on the cell phone. That’s how we were able to bring the profile up and that’s how we made the link.”
Vetrano was strangled when she went for a run alone in Spring Creek Park on Aug. 2 of last year. Later that night, her retired firefighter father found her battered body in a marsh not far from their Howard Beach home.
Investigators found DNA on her body, but it did not match anyone in the data banks. Her parents, Phil and Cathy Vetrano, asked the state to allow familial DNA testing, which allows investigators to see if a suspect’s relative is in the DNA system, potentially leading them to the killer.
“We heard the news, and it hasn’t really even sunk in yet, the magnitude of it,” Vetrano’s father said Sunday. “But now we have, we move on to another phase of this.”
According to Boyce, investigators were able to create a suspect profile based off of a 911 phone call that placed Lewis in the Howard Beach area months before the murder.
Boyce said Lewis does not have a criminal history, but does have multiple summonses in the Howard Beach area, particularly on the bicycle path that leads to the entrance to the park from the East New York side.
“We were able to identify the fact that no one came out of that park on the Howard Beach side of that,” Boyce said.
Boyce said authorities went to Lewis’ home on Essex Street Thursday night and collected a swab from Lewis for DNA testing.
“We brought that immediately to the… chief Medical Examiner, where within two days we had a hit of the DNA we recovered from the crime scene,” Boyce said.
Authorities said Lewis did not know Vetrano before the attack.
Lewis faces a possible prison sentence of 25 years to life if convicted.