What to Know
- Karina Vetrano's strangulation death shocked the city; her body was found by her father and police hours after she went missing
- Chanel Lewis, of East New York, is charged with murder and sexual abuse in her strangulation death; he has pleaded not guilty
- Lewis was connected to the case via DNA evidence that was obtained from underneath Vetrano's fingernails
The father of Karina Vetrano let out a wail that he's never made before or since when he discovered her body in a marsh after she was strangled to death, he recalled during testimony at the trial of the man accused of murdering her.
Chanel Lewis, now 22, was charged with murder and sexual abuse after Karina’s was found violently sexually assaulted and strangled to death in a secluded, marshy section of Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach on Aug. 2, 2016.
Karina’s father, Phil Vetrano, often ran with her on the trails in the park, but decided not to go with her that evening because his back was hurting, he recalled during his emotional testimony in court on Wednesday.
When the 30-year-old hadn’t returned around 6 p.m., he “felt like something was wrong,” he recalled.
“... I continued to watch the news and eat my dinner, [but] as every moment went by, that feeling got stronger and stronger, until it was 6:27, I called her, 6:28, I called her, 6:30, I called her and she didn’t answer. So I yelled. I screamed. I yelled, ‘Oh f---,” Vetrano testified.
That’s when Vetrano set out to look for his daughter in the park, he said.
“I was screaming, ‘Karina, Karina, Karina. I… just kept calling her name,” he said.
When Vetrano’s search turned up short, he called a police chief friend of his, who sent a patrol car to help, he recalled.
The search party found Karina’s phone first, Vetrano said. As the search continued, Vetrano noticed a “matted area completely flattened out in the weeds, he testified.
Vetrano discovered Karina’s body after walking around 25 feet into that area, he said.
“I let out this sound that I — that I never made before or since. It was — I don’t know. It was like a wail,” he said. “And then I screamed, ‘My baby, my baby.’”
Vetrano picked Karina’s body up, but was “immediately” surrounded by police officers who demanded he put her down, he recalled.
“... [O]ne of them said to me, ‘You have to put her down,’” Vetrano said. “And I said, ‘No, I have to take her home. I have to take her home.”
“And I don’t know if I put her down or if they ripped me off…. And then poof, I was on the trail…. I don’t know if they carried me out, if they dragged me out, or if I walked out myself,” he added.
During opening statements on Monday, Karina’s mother cried and clutched a cross as prosecutors described her daughter’s death.
Authorities have said Vetrano’s killer punched her, threw her to the ground, violently sexually assaulted her and strangled her to death.
Lewis, who was arrested nearly six months later, admitted to killing and beating Vetrano in a taped confession, but denied sexually assaulting her.
His attorneys, however, have argued that the tape that the confession shouldn’t be admissible in his trial because it was wrongly obtained, and his family has insisted that he’s innocent.
If Lewis is found guilty, he faces life in prison.