NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Opening statements got underway Monday in the murder trial of a man accused of strangling and sexually assaulting Queens jogger Karina Vetrano in 2016.
The 30-year-old was attacked while running alone near her family’s home in Howard Beach. Her father discovered her lifeless body in a marsh later that night.
Prosecutors called it a “run from which she’d never return,” CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.
Vetrano’s mother, Cathy, made her way into the courtroom Monday with a stoic look on her face while surrounded by loved ones. She was in tears and Vetrano’s sister shook her head as Lewis glanced back at them.
Cathy and Karina’s sister sobbed repeatedly in court as prosecutors gave graphic details of Karina’s killing.
“Her last moment alive was fighting this evil savage,” Cathy Vetrano said in the days after her daughter’s gruesome death.
Lewis’s mother was also in court, wearing a red dress.
Prosecutors said he “strangled [Vetrano] until she couldn’t struggle anymore… until she was dead.”
Prosecutors told the court Lewis told police he attacked Karina because he was angry and upset about a neighbor playing loud music, and he went to Spring Creek Park to clear his head. When he ran into Karina, he “just lost it,” prosecutors told the jury, saw red, and attacked her.
For six months, Vetrano’s death remained a mystery, until police tracked Lewis to his East Brooklyn home, where he allegedly confessed on video to killing Vetrano, saying he saw her, lost it and strangled her. He also voluntarily gave a DNA sample, which came back a match.
“Karina helped us identify this person. She had the DNA under her nails, she had touch DNA on her back, and there was more DNA on the cellphone,” said NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce.
“Myself and my family owe everything to the NYPD and can only ever hope to bring justice to my daughter, Karina, through them and their hard work,” Vetrano’s father, Philip, said at the time.
Following Lewis’s arrest, his father painted a much different picture of his son.
“Whatever I heard, he wouldn’t have done it,” Richard Lewis said.
Neither Vetrano nor Lewis’s fathers were in court Monday, as they are likely to take the stand.
The Legal Aid Society, representing Lewis, said it has “serious doubts” about the evidence gathering and police activities leading to his arrest.
Lewis has pleaded not guilty to murder and sex abuse charges. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.