What to Know
- Karina Vetrano's 2016 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 jury has been charged in the trial of a 22-year-old man accused of brutally snatching and murdering a young woman when she went out for a run in her Queens neighborhood two years ago.
The jury, comprised of 11 women and five men, started deliberating briefly Monday evening before going home for the day. They'll return Tuesday morning to continue.
Earlier, the defense for Chanel Lewis claimed in closing arguments that a confession was obtained under duress and the evidence in the case was weak.
They said the entire case was based on a rush to judgment and that prosecutors lacked the burden of proof. Lewis was 20 when he allegedly sexually assaulted and strangled Karina Vetrano; he has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and sexual abuse in her death.
Prosecutors said he was connected to the case via DNA evidence obtained from underneath Vetrano's fingernails. The medical examiner had said she fought for her life. But the defense said the DNA found on the Vetrano's body was miniscule, and that police were eager to make an arrest six months after her body was found.
"This is a rush to judgment," one of Lewis' lawyers said.
The defense also claimed there was sloppy police work, starting with the crime scene. Vetrano's father, Phil Vetrano, was among the group that found her body in Howard Beach's Spring Creek Park hours after she was reported missing. In his own testimony, described how he lifted up and hugged her lifeless body. He broke down on the stand as he testified about the horror last week.
“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 recalled. “And then I screamed, ‘My baby, my baby.’”
The defense said because of that, "The crime scene became corrupted for the first time. You can't blame Mr. Vetrano for what he did. He did what any dad would do."
Vetrano, 30, went out for her usual run on Aug. 2, 2016. She never came home.
Chanel Lewis, 22, was arrested in the killing about six months after Vetrano's death. In a confession tape played during the trial last week, Lewis was heard saying he was angry about the loud music his neighbor had been playing when he encountered Vetrano jogging on the park trail.
“While you were in the park, did something happen?” Assistant District Attorney Peter McCormack asks Lewis on the tape, which is dated Feb. 5, 2017.
“Yes,” Lewis replied.
Lewis then admits that he “got angry and started hitting [Vetrano]” in the face and mouth, video shows.
At some point during the attack, Vetrano’s tooth broke, he says, adding that Vetrano’s face ended up in a pool of water.
Lewis also admits to putting his hands around Vetrano’s neck and hitting her for about five minutes, before dragging her “somewhere off the pathway.”
Her clothing was “pulled off,” but Lewis denies sexually assaulting her.
Prosecutors are expected to make their closing arguments later Monday before the case goes to the jury.
Lewis faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.