Updated Feb. 6, 12:15 p.m.
Chanel Lewis, the 20-year-old East Brooklyn resident accused of brutally raping and murdering Howard Beach’s Karina Vetrano last August, is being held without bail on second-degree murder charges, prosecutors announced.
Lewis was arraigned Sunday night in Queens Criminal Court and faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted. According to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, a grand jury may consider additional criminal charges when the case is presented to them.
“This is truly a very sad case in which a beautiful and talented young woman senselessly lost her life,” Brown said. “Thanks, however, to the persistence of the hard-working detectives of the NYPD, assisted by members of my staff, the person allegedly responsible for her brutal murder finally has been brought to justice.”
The investigation was conducted by the NYPD Queens South Homicide Squad, 106th Precinct Detective Squad, Crime Scene Unit, Forensic Investigation Division and others under the overall supervision of the NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce.
During a press conference at the 106th Precinct stationhouse in Ozone Park on Sunday morning, Boyce identified the suspect as 20-year-old Chanel Lewis. Lewis was taken into custody at 6 p.m. on Saturday night, Feb. 4.
“This is a very good day for justice in New York City,” Boyce said.
Police do not believe Lewis knew Vetrano prior to the incident, calling it a “chance encounter.” Detectives were able to identify the suspect after a six-month investigation employing over 250 leads from the public, 1,700 investigative reports and DNA testing.
Authorities first spoke to Lewis on Thursday, Feb. 2.
“It has been reported that we had him for months — we did not,” Boyce said.
Vetrano, 30, went out for a run from her 84th Street home at 5 p.m. on Aug. 2, 2016, and never returned home. Her body was recovered hours later in the heavily weeded area off the intersection of 161st Avenue and 78th Street, where authorities discovered she had been raped, beaten and strangled to death.
Within the last 10 days, detectives received word of a 911 call which placed Lewis in Howard Beach during May 2016, prior to the incident. From there, detectives developed a profile. Boyce said the suspect had no criminal history, but did have a number of summonses in the Howard Beach area.
The discovery led authorities to Lewis’ home, where he lived with his mother, and they placed him under arrest, Boyce said. Once in custody, Lewis made “detailed incriminating statements and admissions” that connected him to the crime. Lewis also freely gave a DNA swab, which matched with DNA evidence collected at the crime scene and from Vetrano’s body.
“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 her cellphone.”
Lewis will likely face charges of murder and sexual assault, District Attorney Richard A. Brown said.
Boyce thanked the NYPD detectives and the 106th Precinct for their hard work and members of the public for their tips throughout the investigation. He also offered a word of gratitude to the community shaken by the tragedy for their continuous support.
“We’d like to personally thank the community of Howard Beach, Queens, who have been nothing but supportive of us in our efforts,” he said. “We will never forget that.”