New York

‘He's a Demon!' Mother of Slain Runner Karina Vetrano Faces Alleged Killer

Karina Vetrano's beaten and strangled body was found in a Queens marsh over the summer; she had vanished while going for a run

What to Know

  • Karina Vetrano's beaten body was found Aug. 2 in a marshy park in Queens.
  • Prosecutors say Chanel Lewis confronted, attacked and strangled Vetrano while she was jogging.
  • Lewis is charged with second-degree murder. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years to life in prison.

The mother of the 30-year-old runner who was strangled, beaten and sexually assaulted before being dumped in a Queens marsh over the summer stared down the alleged killer in court Sunday, little more than six months to the day that her daughter's body was found. 

"He's a demon! He's a demon, he can burn in hell," Cathie Vetrano said. 

In Photos: The Investigation of Karina Vetrano's Death

Chanel Lewis, of Brooklyn, is being held without bail after his arraignment Sunday on a charge of second-degree murder in the strangling of Karina Vetrano. Vetrano's slaying became one of the city's highest profile cases in recent years as her father, Phil Vetrano, spearheaded a grassroots social media effort to keep her name in the media. 

Phil Vetrano said Sunday he was at a loss for words, but thanked police for their investigative efforts in piecing together the clues of his daughter's death. 

"We hoped to get to this point, one day," he said. "I am not going to say it's good, but we can move forward now. We are in a place we were never at, we know who did this." 

The 20-year-old Lewis, who lives with his mother, could face up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted. 

At an unrelated news briefing Monday, Mayor de Blasio praised the NYPD detectives who helped bring Lewis in, calling the case extremely challenging.

According to Queens Assistant District Attorney Michael Curtis, Lewis "admitted to attacking the victim, admitted to beating her, to strangling her and dragging her body in the weeds."

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Lewis has two attorneys through Legal Aid. His father described him as a "humble kid" who was a good student and wanted to go into social work. 

Investigators developed a profile of Lewis within the past 10 days that revealed a host of summonses, but no previous criminal history, officials said. 

Authorities believe Lewis snatched Vetrano near an area connecting the remote Howard Beach route she jogged to an East New York bicycle path that runs along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. 

The discovery led authorities to Lewis' home, where they arrested him. Police said they don't believe he and Vetrano knew each other prior to the crime. 

Vetrano, an avid runner, was beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted on Aug. 2 in Howard Beach. Her father Phil usually ran with her, but stayed home with an injury the day she was killed. Her father was with search crews that found her body later that day, about 15 feet from the running trail. 

Detectives tracked Lewis with the help of forensic evidence after sifting through more than 250 leads from the public and more than 1,700 investigative reports. Police sources say his DNA matches the DNA profile retrieved from a series of investigative points on Vetrano's body. 

"You gotta remember Karina helped us identify this person," Boyce said. "She had the DNA under her nails. She had touch DNA on her back and there was more DNA on her cellphone. That's how we were able to bring this profile up. And that's how we made the link." 

Lewis complied with detectives' requests Thursday to give a DNA sample and the results came back Saturday, sources say. Vetrano's parents had asked the state for additional DNA testing on Thursday. Her family held a rally that day to mark six months since her death.

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