“I sat for two and a half years listening to the most disgusting details of my daughter, her most horrendous death and last moments of her life at the hands of a savage demon.“
It was the 2nd of August 2016. Thirty year old Karina Vetrano went out jogging near her Howard Beach home in New York, United States of America. It was something she always did. She loved to jog. Normally, Karina would jog with her father Phillip but Phillip had a back injury so that day, the 2nd of August, Karina went out jogging alone. It was the first time she went out alone.
Karina was just 4 foot 11 inches tall and 112 lbs. She worked as a speech therapist but loved to write also and one of her pieces, The Paradox, was made into a short film in 2013.
That afternoon, around 5pm, Karina went for a jog in Spring Creek Park in the Howard Beach section of Queens. It was just a few blocks from her home. She was texting a friend as she jogged but suddenly stopped texting. Her friend called her but there was no answer. Phillip was worried when Karina did not return home almost two hours later. He described a feeling he had, it was like a premonition, an overwhelming sense that Karina needed him. He contacted police and a search began at 7pm that night.
CCTV Footage of Karina jogging that afternoon
Phillip searched with police and it was Phillip himself who found his daughter's body,laying on her stomach, just yards away from her home. Her body was in a weeded path in marshland in the park. Karina had been badly beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled. Some of her clothes were missing and her underwear had been pulled down.Her sports bra had been pulled down to reveal her breasts. Karina's two front teeth were chipped and there were marks, cuts and bruises all over Karina's body. Karina had fought for her life but she had no chance against such a vicious and sustained attack. Police recovered a DNA sample from Karina’s neck, under her fingernails and on her cellphone but were unable to match it to any known individual on the system.
Phillip and Karina
Police began investigating the murder. They looked at Karina's life and people she knew as well as men she dated but there were no suspects. They believed that the murder was a random attack. Karina may have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They got a break in the case from one of their own detectives. One of the lead detectives working on the case remembered a man wandering around his own home in Howard Beach in May, a few months before Karina's murder. He took note of him because he was wearing a hoodie and sweatpants on a hot day. The man was looking at houses. He was in the area again the next day and other residents saw him going in and out of backyards with a crowbar. At that time, in May 2016, the detective had reported the incident to the police and they went to the area at the time.
He looked at the notes the police officers took that went to the area when he called 911. The notes revealed that a man named Chanel Lewis was the person wandering around in the area. Police went to speak with him. Chanel was asked for a DNA swab. He provided one and it was a match to the DNA recovered from under Karina's fingernails and on her cellphone.
Chanel was twenty years old and was arrested six months after Karina's murder. His cellphone had two pictures of Karina and a photo of the crime scene that were taken from an online news article. The search history revealed there had been over one hundred and thirty searches for terms such as 'Miranda warning,' 'arraignment,' and 'what happens after a felony convicton?'
Chanel was questioned at the police station and he confessed to Karina's murder. He told police that the day Karina was murdered, he stormed out of his home. He was upset that a neighbour was playing loud music. He saw Karina jogging and told police that:
“She didn’t do anything,I was just mad at that time. I beat her to let my emotions out. I didn’t really mean to hurt her. It just happened.”
He said that he punched Karina five times in the face and when she tried to fight back, he "got mad" and dragged her into the weeds to "finish her off." He denied sexually assaulting and strangling her. He said that she drowned in the puddle. Chanel was charged with the murder and sexual assault of Karina.
At Chanel's Trial, his legal team argued that his confession was coerced and the DNA was contaminated. Some of the Jurors were swayed by that argument and the Trial ended in a hung jury so a retrial was ordered.
Phillip and Karina
The Assistant District Attorney told the Jury that:
“Karina was attacked brutally, her attacker struggled with her. He pummeled her. He strangled her. He put his legs on her chest. Then she fought for her life. She struggled to get away.And he strangled her until she could not struggle anymore. He strangled her until she was dead.”
Prosecutors told the Court that Chanel punched Karina in the face repeatedly with such force that he injured his hand. When Chanel confessed to Karina's murder, Chanel told police that Karina could not scream because she had broken teeth.He then sexually assaulted her and strangled her. The cause of death was strangulation.
Karina's Parents-Phillip and Karina
It took the Jury in Chanel's second Trial just five hours to deliberate. They found him guilty of first-degree murder and other charges for the strangling of Karina and guilty of first-degree sexual abuse.
Chanel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Before that day, Chanel had never met Karina and had no idea who she was. She did not know him and never did anything to him. Yet , on that day, the 2nd of August, he left his home full of rage. He was familiar with the area and when he saw Karina, he grabbed her. He repeatedly punched her to stun her into shock which would have made it difficult for her to defend herself. Even though she was brutally assaulted, she still gave everything she had to fight for her life. But Chanel was not prepared to let that happen. Not content with having savagely beaten her, he sexually assaulted her and strangled her. It was a completely random, opportunistic and savage attack. In that moment, he ended Karina's life and destroyed the life of her parents who so dearly loved her.
The Chief Assistant District Attorney, John Ryan , said that:
“This was a horrifying case. A vibrant, young woman’s life came to an abrupt and violent end,Ms. Vetrano’s death was brutal. She was pulled from a park pathway, sexually assaulted, and in her last moments of life she gasped for air as the defendant’s hands tightened around her neck.”
A life sentence without the possibility of parole will ensure that Chanel's hands will never grip and tighten around another woman's neck again.
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