Chanel Lewis, 22, was found guilty of committing the Aug. 2, 2016, murder and sexual assault of Vetrano, who was brutally beaten and choked after going out for a run blocks from her 84th Street home. Lewis was arrested for the crime six months after it occurred, tied to the homicide through DNA evidence recovered at the scene.
NY1 reported that applause broke out in the courtroom after the guilty verdict was announced on April 1. Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan hoped that the outcome would “give the [Vetrano] family some closure and comfort knowing her killer will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.”
“A vibrant, young woman’s life came to an abrupt and violent end at the hands of a then-20-year-old Brooklyn man,” Ryan said on Monday night. “Ms. Vetrano’s death was brutal. She was pulled from a park pathway, sexually assaulted and, in her last moments of life, she gasped for air as the defendant’s hands tightened around her neck.”
Monday’s verdict marked the end of Lewis’ second trial, and came nearly five months after a mistrial was declared in the first case just before Thanksgiving 2018 due to a deadlocked jury.
The quick verdict also came about after Lewis’ defense team filed a motion against the DNA evidence, submitting an anonymous letter which claimed that the case was “racially-biased” and that detectives had collected DNA samples from more than 300 black men. The motion was ultimately dismissed.
Vetrano’s body was found among the tall reeds of Spring Creek Park hours after her father reported her missing on Aug. 2, 2016. A six-month search for her killer turned up nothing, even though forensic detectives recovered enough genetic evidence from the crime scene to create a DNA profile of her killer. The profile did not match anyone in the state’s DNA databank up to that point.
Police caught a break in the case in February 2017 when an NYPD lieutenant recalled seeing Lewis weeks earlier near the park where Vetrano was killed on an unrelated matter. Detectives questioned Lewis and obtained from him a DNA sample which was said to match the DNA profile of Vetrano’s killer.
According to trial testimony, Lewis entered the park on the night of the murder, apparently angered by a neighbor playing loud music. He encountered Vetrano while she ran through the park and, without saying a word, went on the attack, repeatedly punching her in the face and tearing her clothes off.
After sexually assaulting her, prosecutors said, Lewis choked Vetrano to death, even as she fought back. Crime scene investigators later recovered her killer’s DNA from under her fingernails. An autopsy later revealed that Vetrano suffered tears to her genitalia that indicated that she had been sexually assaulted.
The investigation further revealed that Lewis’ cellphone data indicated that it pinged from phone towers near Spring Creek Park at around the time the murder took place. Detectives also learned that, even before he was considered to be a suspect in the Vetrano murder, he had searched the internet on his cellphone for information about Vetrano and criminal proceedings, including double jeopardy, Miranda rights and the death penalty. (The death penalty is no longer carried out in New York state on capital murder charges).
Lewis faces up life without parole when he is sentenced on April 17.
Check with QNS for additional details as they become available.
This story was updated on April 1 at 10:40 p.m.