Old 911 call led to arrest of suspect in Howard Beach jogger’s murder

The Queens District Attorney contends “familial DNA” searches can help solve the murder of Karina Vetrano, who was killed in August.
By Patrick Donachie

A six-month effort to find a suspect in the August 2016 murder of Karina Vetrano ended in a “deep dive” investigation of a 911 call about a suspicious person in the area from May last year, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce. said.

Police charged Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York with the murder that occurred at about 5:40 p.m. on Aug. 2. Vetrano, 30, was attacked and sexually assaulted as she jogged through a remote area of Queens known as Spring Creek Park, which straddles the Brooklyn/Queens border, police officials said.

Boyce said Lewis was cited as a suspicious person in the May 911 call, and an investigation into the call led police to probe further, finding several summons issued to Lewis in the Howard Beach area.

Police spoke to Lewis Thursday evening, and he willingly gave a DNA sample which matched evidence found on Vetrano’s body and cell phone, Boyce said. He was taken into custody at the 106th Precinct Saturday night, and was arraigned Sunday in a Queens criminal court charged with murder in the second degree, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Queens district attorney’s office.

The complaint said Lewis punched Vetrano repeatedly and strangled her, causing her death. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years to life in prison, according to DA Richard Brown.

“At this time he is being charged with intentional murder in the second degree, although the investigation is continuing and a grand jury may consider additional criminal charges when the case is presented to them,” Brown said in a statement.

Boyce said police do not believe Lewis knew Vetrano and it appeared to be a chance encounter. Lewis lives with his mother.

Vetrano fought back furiously against her attacker, whose DNA was found on her cell phone, under her fingernails and her neck. Boyce said Monday the investigation involved more than 600 DNA samples collected and 1,700 investigative reports filed.

The Vetrano family mounted a public campaign to find Karina’s killer, which drew widespread support from within the Howard Beach community. They established a GoFundMe page to collect contributions that could be used as a reward and have also advocated for the use of “familial DNA testing, which would allow authorities to search DNA databases for potential relatives of a recovered DNA sample.

More from Around New York