Family, friends of convicted killer question his link to murdered NYC jogger

first_imgkarinavetrano/Instagram(NEW YORK) — Family and supporters of the man convicted of killing of a female runner in New York City say they are still waiting for justice to be served.Chanel Lewis was convicted in March for the murder of Karina Vetrano in August 2016. His first trial, in November 2018, ended in a hung jury.Vetrano, 30, returned to her Howard Beach home from work and decided to go for a run on Aug. 2, 2016. Three miles away in Brooklyn, New York, Chanel Lewis left his mother’s home to blow off some steam because his neighbors were playing music too loudly, according to trial testimony.Surveillance video showed Vetrano, an avid runner, going into Spring Creek Park in the early evening. She never returned home.Chanel Lewis frequently visited the Howard Beach area. In May 2016, however, two residents called the police on him for loitering near their homes, according to trial testimony.“Right now, he’s sitting on the curb. He doesn’t belong there,” said Gurino on the 911 call played in Queens Supreme Court during Chanel Lewis’ trial in March.Howard Beach, a tiny neighborhood that’s situated along the outskirts of one of the most diverse communities in the country, has a history of race-related violence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 estimates, 2.4 million people live in the community.“Chanel said Howard Beach is a peaceful place to go to. He went there to go to Subway and KFC. I love the pizza from there, he brings it home to me,” Veta Lewis, Chanel’s mother, told ABC News’ Nightline in an exclusive interview.Chanel Lewis is a first-generation American and the only son of Richard and Veta Lewis, who came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1992. “My son is respectable, considerate…he was raised to respect others,” said Veta Lewis about her son, who is facing life without the possibility of parole.Surveillance video from Spring Creek Park did not show anyone entering or leaving after Vetrano. Investigators believe that her killer may have hailed from the neighboring community of East New York, said Robert Boyce, the former New York Police Department chief of detectives who is now an ABC News contributor.Phil Vetrano, whose back injury caused him to sit out from his daily run with his daughter, testified at two separate trials in Queens Supreme Court that he had a bad feeling when Karina did not return home in a timely fashion.Instead of calling 911, Phil Vetrano, a retired firefighter, contacted neighbors with law enforcement contacts and began an immediate search that night.Phil Vetrano testified during the first trial in November 2018 that he found his daughter “on her stomach…her left arm next to her. Her legs were in a running position. Her head tilted back to the side.” The heartbroken father testified that he lifted Vetrano’s lifeless body and hugged her before the crime scene was established.The Vetrano family declined to be interviewed by ABC News.DNA was recovered from Vetrano’s cellphone, the back of her neck and under her fingernails.Forensic experts determined that the DNA mixture found on Vetrano did not match any DNA already collected in the NYPD’s Forensic Investigation Division databases.“She was a lioness. She fought back hard,” said Boyce, who concluded that Chanel Lewis attempted to sexually assault Vetrano but “was not able to complete” the task.Boyce told Nightline that police received hundreds of tips early on in the investigation. But investigators concluded that the killer or killers came from the East New York area through an adjacent highway bike path.Six months after Vetrano’s death, on Feb. 2, 2017, Detective Michael Greenidge and another officer went to Chanel Lewis’ home on Essex Street in East New York. With Veta Lewis nearby, a DNA swab was conducted.Two days later, Chanel Lewis’ DNA matched with the suspect’s DNA found under Vetrano’s fingernails and on her cellphone and he was placed under arrest.Chanel Lewis, then 20, told detectives he punched Vetrano five times and when she started to fight back he got “mad at her” and dragged her into the tall weeds where he “finished her off,” according to a videotaped statement he made during 11 hours in police custody. Four of those hours were not recorded, according to trial testimony. Chanel Lewis repeatedly denied sexually violating Vetrano.Veta Lewis said her son’s confession was coerced.“People have to watch the video and see what the officers did and telling him what to say,” she said. “He’s not a monster as they as they want the world to know. He’s a God-fearing, loving kind person.”Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent and ABC News contributor, said Chanel Lewis’ confession was credible because of the “level of detail” that only the suspect would know. A spokeswoman from the Queens District Attorney’s Office said the jury made the correct decision about Chanel Lewis.“We can understand why a mother can’t or won’t accept the reality of the horrific crime committed by her son, but that doesn’t change the facts,” she said. “Chanel Lewis was justly found to be guilty and another mother received the justice she deserves.”Sonny Hostin, ABC News’ senior legal correspondent, had a different take on the trial. “Historically there have been many, many cases where innocent people are convicted based on coerced confessions,” she said. “And many jurors have heard of these stories and so they do have suspicions about confessions and they are warranted.”A spokesman for the Legal Aid Society, which represents Chanel Lewis, declined to be interviewed by ABC News before the sentencing.Community activist Christopher Banks said the NYPD got the wrong man and were “pressured” to make an arrest in the case.Rev. Kevin McCall, the Lewis family’s spiritual supporter, pointed out that reward posters for Vetrano’s killer are still displayed in the neighborhood. “But if you got the person then why [are] the signs still up in numerous areas in East New York?” he said. “They got the wrong person…and that’s why we’ve continued to fight for Chanel. He has a voice. He has a family. He has a community that is behind him and we are not going to stop until the process is vindicated.”“Nothing is impossible for my God and I’m just still trusting my God because I know that one day the truth must come out,” said Veta Lewis, who prays for her son with McCall.The city’s medical examiner testified at both trials, saying that the injuries sustained by Vetrano could have been accomplished by multiple assailants.The NYPD’s investigation was scrutinized in an eleventh-hour anonymous letter sent by an alleged law enforcement officer involved with the murder investigation. The letter revealed that in the first 12 days of the investigation, police were looking for “a pair of jacked up white guys from Howard Beach,” according to the typed letter that also suggested exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense.On April 1, the trial judge denied the defense attorney’s motion to declare a mistrial. Five hours after the jurors heard closing arguments, they convicted Chanel Lewis.A juror, who asked not to be named, spoke to reporters after the trial saying that he felt pressured to convict Chanel Lewis. The jury foreman exclusively told ABC News affiliate WABC-TV that the case was a “slam dunk.”The NYPD said that they “painstakingly investigated the murder of Karina Vetrano, and as the Queen’s district attorney’s prosecution demonstrates, the evidence clearly shows that Chanel Lewis is responsible for her death.”Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.last_img read more