Crime and Courts
Chief investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst on crime, corruption and terrorism.

‘I Was Screaming in the Street’: Karina Vetrano’s Mother Takes Stand in Retrial of Murder Suspect

What to Know

  • Testimony began Tuesday in the retrial of the man accused of killing Karina Vetrano while she was out for a jog near her NYC home
  • During opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal claimed Chanel Lewis 'choked her until she couldn't struggle anymore'
  • A judge declared a mistrial last November when jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict

The mother of murdered jogger Karina Vetrano screamed in the street after she learned her daughter was dead, she recalled during testimony in court Tuesday.

Testimony in Chanel Lewis' retrial began Tuesday. Lewis, 22, is accused of killing 30-year-old Vetrano as she ran on a park trail in Howard Beach, Queens, in August 2016. Prosecutors said Vetrano had been sexually abused. Her father discovered the body.

On Tuesday, Karina’s mother Cathie Vetrano testified for the first time, fighting back tears as she described the anxious moments of Aug. 2, 2016 during the police and neighborhood search for her 30-year-old daughter who had gone jogging alone and was not answering her cellphone after she failed to return from her run.

Cathie last saw her daughter alive when the 30-year-old checked up on her after she returned home from Sloan Kettering after undergoing a procedure.

Cathie said her son approached her waiting on their Howard Beach stoop and told her Karina had passed away.

“I was screaming in the street and an ambulance tried to put me in because I just had surgery. I saw my husband coming down the block and we just grabbed each other crying,” Cathie said.

Vetrano’s father testified during the first trial, but her mother did not.

judge declared a mistrial last November when jurors couldn’t agree on a verdict. The jury for the retrial was selected last week.

During opening statements on Monday, Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal claimed Lewis "choked her until she couldn't struggle anymore." 

"He squeezed and he squeezed and he squeezed," Leventhal said. "He choked her until she couldn't resist anymore. He choked her until she couldn't struggle anymore. He choked her until she couldn't breathe anymore. He choked her until she died, alone, scared."

Despite DNA evidence that authorities said linked Lewis to the scene and a taped confession, the first trial ended in a hung jury in November. Unlike the first trial, Vetrano's mother could take the stand Tuesday testify against Lewis.

On Monday, the defense returned to its previous arguments, saying the confession was coerced by detectives who wore Lewis down until he finally gave them what they wanted, "a story," and that the DNA evidence was suspect.

Vetrano was brutally strangled and sexually assaulted when jogging alone in Spring Creek Park, just blocks away from home.

Seven months later, the Brooklyn man was arrested and charged after being linked through DNA evidence found under Vetrano’s nails.

The prosecution’s case during Lewis' first trial built on the alleged DNA and Lewis’ confession.

However, the defense has said the mistrial went on to show that there were issues with the DNA, including quantity and quality.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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