A murder trial has opened for Chanel Lewis, the 22-year-old man accused of killing Karina Vetrano while she was out for a run in 2016

By Chris Harris
November 07, 2018 03:40 PM
Karina Vetrano
Karina Vetrano/Instagram

Prosecutors this week provided new details in the 2016 slaying of a New York City jogger who was allegedly killed in a “crime of opportunity” by a man who crossed paths with her because he was angry a over a neighbor’s loud music.

Opening statements were offered on Monday in the ongoing second-degree murder trial of Chanel Lewis, the 22-year-old man accused of killing Karina Vetrano while she was out for a run the evening of Aug. 2, 2016.

According to local reports, Queens Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal addressed the court for two hours, characterizing the 30-year-old woman’s death as a “crime of random violence — a crime of opportunity.”

Lewis was arrested in early 2017 — six months after Vetrano’s battered body was found by her father in a Queens park, about a dozen feet from a trail she jogged daily. Police said she had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death.

“[Vetrano’s] dead because she was unlucky enough, misfortunate enough to be in a secluded location outside of the eyes and ears of anyone but him,” Leventhal said Monday, according to the Queens Daily Eagle — right before pointing a finger at Lewis.

After arresting him, police said Lewis allegedly admitted to killing Vetrano but denied sexually assaulting her. Lewis told police, they said, that he could not stop himself from attacking her as she was jogging past him.

Local TV station WCBS reports Lewis allegedly told investigators he was in the park to calm down after being angered by loud music played by a neighbor — then he saw Vetrano.

Leventhal told jurors in court this week that DNA evidence recovered from Vetrano’s phone, body and fingernails implicates Lewis as the only person who could have attacked her. But, the Eagle reports, defense attorney Jenny Cheung argued the state’s evidence against her client is inconclusive.

Cheung — whose request for a mistrial was denied Monday — said it was a gross “misstatement” for the prosecution to tell jurors that the DNA profile developed by medical examiners suggests evidence from only one individual was recovered from beneath Vetrano’s fingernails.

“That was an exaggeration of the evidence, and no scientist would tell you that,” Cheung told the Eagle before giving her response in court.

According to WCBS, Cheung contended in court that the DNA evidence actually creates “serious doubts” about her client’s supposed guilt.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Chanel Lewis (center), the day he was arrested
James Keivom James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images

According to WNBC, the courtroom gallery was filled with around 30 of Vetrano’s friends and neighbors. Her mother, Cathie, was also there for the start of the trial and cried as Leventhal described Vetrano’s final moments.

The investigation into her killing initially lost momentum after several months with no new developments. But then, in early 2017, N.Y.C. police Lt. John Russo, who lives in the same Queens neighborhood as Vetrano and her parents, remembered reporting a suspicious individual to police months before the murder.

Officers spoke to Lewis at that time, and filed a report.

Lt. Russo later suggested detectives look into Lewis as a possible suspect, and it was soon learned he had been issued several summonses near the scene of Vetrano’s death days before her August 2016 slaying.

On Monday, Lewis’ defense attorney said that she would continue to cast doubt on the strength of the state’s evidence as the trial proceeds.