Chanel Lewis has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2016 murder of Karina Vetrano, who was beaten, sexually abused and strangled to death while out for a jog near her home in Howard Beach, Queens.
Tuesday's sentence was handed down by Queens Supreme Court Justice Michael Aloise, who a day earlier rejected a defense motion to vacate Lewis' conviction based on allegations of juror misconduct. Lewis, 22, was convicted after five hours of deliberations following his second trial after the first ended in a mistrial.
"I'm sorry to the family. I didn't do this," Lewis said before he was sentenced.
Cathie Vetrano, Karina Vetrano's mother, clutched her daughter's pair of white work shoes as she addressed the judge.
"On Aug. 2, 2016, Chanel Lewis slaughtered me as well with the gruesome slaying of my soul," she said. "The second you put your hands on a child of God, you rejected the Holy Spirit and acted out as the devil."
Karina's father Phil Vetrano and her two siblings also gave victim impact statements where they referred to Lewis as a "monster."
Phil Vetrano testified in court that he became concerned when his 30-year-old daughter did not return home from her run and called a neighbor in law enforcement for help.
"The anguish of finding your baby bruised, dead and unable to help her," said Phil Vetrano. "That monster killed four people that day and three of us still walk the Earth as zombies."
A citywide manhunt continued for six months until one of the case detectives, John Russo, who also lives near the crime scene, remembered calling the police on a man - later identified as Lewis - lurking in the neighborhood months before Karina Vetrano was killed.
During a pre-trial hearing Russo testified that he "focused on the defendant because when he ran his name in the computer" there was a report where Lewis was accused of "expressing desire to hurt women," said Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal before the sentencing.
Lewis was arrested in February 2017 after he consented to a DNA swab. His DNA matched what was found on Karina Vetrano's cellphone, the back of her neck and under her fingernails.
The Legal Aid Society, Lewis' defense team, made at least two attempts to get a new trial. His lawyers said they had received an anonymous letter from an alleged law enforcement officer claiming prosecutorial misconduct. One juror also said alleged misconduct had taken place during deliberations. Both motions by the defense were rejected by the judge.
"This is a lose-lose situation for both families ... parents' worst nightmare, child goes out for a jog and never returns," Judge Aloise said before rendering the sentencing. "In the future, you'll find that the followers of this case would have moved on and you will be alone, but I tell you what, when that day come around you'll be in a cage."
The Legal Aid Society said in a statement: "While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano's death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case - from the police investigation to jury deliberations - was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs.This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis's Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. We will appeal this case to the Appellate Division to secure Mr. Lewis the justice that he deserves."
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