What to Know
- Karina Vetrano vanished while out for a run in a neighborhood park, blocks from her home, in August 2016; she was found dead in a marsh
- Vetrano's father, Phil, was among the search members to find her body; he and his wife fought for months to keep the case in the news
- Seven months after Vetrano died, Chanel Lewis was arrested; he was convicted of murder and sex abuse at his retrial earlier this month
The man convicted of killing Karina Vetrano, a 30-year-old Queens woman who went out for a run in her neighborhood park one summer day and never came home, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole on Tuesday.
Vetrano was brutally strangled and sexually assaulted when she went running in Spring Creek Park in August 2016. Her father was among the search members to find her body in a marsh. She had only been a few blocks from home.
Nearly seven months later, Chanel Lewis, from Brooklyn, was arrested after prosecutors said DNA evidence found under Vetrano's fingernails linked him to the crime. He'll now spend the rest of his life behind bars.
He addressed the court briefly after the sentencing, saying, "I'm sorry for the family's loss ... but I didn't do this."
Vetrano's parents, Cathie and Phil, have been the public face of the investigation since their daughter died, refusing to let the case idle as it remained unsolved for months and appearing in court for nearly every single hearing after Lewis' arrest. Heading into court Tuesday for the sentencing, Cathie Vetrano said, "Good morning" to reporters as she walked inside, wearing a floral dress.
Phil Vetrano walked in right behind her walking a black shirt. He said nothing -- until after the sentencing was handed down.
"Our baby was killed and murdered and all we wanted to do was find the killer. We found him in six months," Phil Vetrano said. "There's no question -- no question and no doubt. "Today, everybody got justice. Karina got justice and the murderer got his justice."
The case, while stirring urban fears, also raised questions about race and police procedures. Lewis' mother and supporters have taken to protests outside the courthouse, claiming the NYPD planted DNA evidence and urging black men to blankly refuse any requests for a DNA swipe. His mother says he's innocent.
"From day one, my son, Chanel Lewis, is innocent," his mother said. "I am a mother. I feel the Vetrano pain, because they lost their daughter. But I too lost a son. And my son is not the killer."
Lewis' attorneys had sought a hearing after getting an anonymous letter saying that police had pursued two white suspects before taking DNA samples from hundreds of black men - in what the defense called a "race-biased dragnet" - and coming to focus on Lewis. They claimed their client didn't get a fair trial.
Phil Vetrano said his family never wanted to "make a race thing out of this."
"To us it still isn't, but the defense chose to put us through this torture," Phil Vetrano said.
Lewis was convicted of all charges in Vetrano's death earlier this month. He was supposed to have been sentenced last week, but his lawyers earned him an 11th-hour reprieve. They successfully argued for a sentencing stay pending a hearing on alleged jury misconduct, and produced an affidavit from one of the jurors claiming others were not impartial and didn't heed the strict orders of the court. That, Lewis' lawyers said, meant their client's rights were violated. A judge disagreed Monday, denying their motion to set aside the verdict.
Lewis' attorneys at The Legal Aid Society slammed the sentencing -- and the entire trial process -- after the sentencing Tuesday and vowed to appeal.
"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. "This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis’s Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial."
Prosecutors wholeheartedly disagreed.
"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," Queens 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 an ounce of remorse for this heinous killing. It is my hope that this sentence gives the family some comfort knowing their loved one’s killer will never see freedom again."
A previous trial ended in a hung jury in November. Although the retrial consisted of information and evidence presented in the first trial, startling allegations and new testimony were also presented in court the second time around.