More than two and a half years after the murder of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, Chanel Lewis was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday at the Queens Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens. The 22-year-old Brooklyn man was convicted of killing Vetrano in August 2016 after he pulled her off a running path in Spring Creek Park, sexually abused and strangled her to death, according to prosecutors.
Lewis was convicted following a nearly three-week-long trial on April 1. As Queens Supreme Court Justice Michael Aloise pronounced his sentence, Lewis slumped in his chair glancing toward the Vetrano family seated across the courtroom several times before he was handcuffed and led away. Supporters shouted “Justice for Chanel” as he was escorted out.
“For more than two years, the family of Karina Vetrano has been wrought with grief and heartache. They endured her violent death, a trial and then a second trial seeking justice for the 30-year-old victim,” Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan said in a statement. “This young woman’s life was tragically cut short. The defendant in this case has shown not one ounce of remorse for the heinous killing. The Court has ordered the 22-year-old defendant to prison for the rest of his days. It is my hope that this sentence gives the family some comfort knowing their loved one’s killer will never see freedom again.”
The Legal Aid Society, which represented Lewis in the first trial that ended in a hung jury, as well as his second trial, vowed to appeal the case.
“While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano’s death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case, from the police investigation to jury deliberations, was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs,” The Legal Aid Society said in a statement immediately following the sentencing. “This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis’s Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. We will appeal this case to the Appellate Division to secure Mr. Lewis the justice that he deserves.”
Ryan stated that evidence presented at trial included DNA analysis which showed the defendant’s DNA was present on Vetrano’s neck and her cellphone, and there was a mixture of Lewis’ DNA on the victim’s fingernails. According to trial testimony, Lewis confessed twice, once to police and a second time to prosecutors.
In those recorded interviews, Lewis stated that he was angry at his neighbor and when he saw Vetrano he grabbed her and struck her. “I lost it,” he said.
In both recorded confessions, Lewis said he punched the 30-year-old victim to the point where he broke her teeth and sustained an open wound on his right hand. Medical records from a doctor’s visit the next day included an X-ray of the hand injury. A photograph of the hand injury taken from the defendant’s phone were also presented as evidence during the trial. Further evidence presented at trial showed he had done internet searches on his cellphone about the victim, the crime and legal information regarding Miranda rights, the Fifth Amendment, double jeopardy and death sentences.
Family and supporters said Lewis’ confessions had been coerced and that the DNA evidence was ambiguous. The defense said Lewis was the victim of a rush to judgment by police and sloppy investigative work.