New York City jurors took five hours to convict a 22-year-old man in the killing of a female jogger in Queens, whose 2016 slaying set off a months-long manhunt.
Chanel Lewis of Brooklyn was found guilty of killing Karina Vetrano on Aug. 2, 2016. He was convicted on four counts, including murder and sexual abuse.
Monday's verdict came more than four months after Lewis' first trial ended in a mistrial when the Queens jury could not come to a unanimous decision.
Vetrano, 30, was killed while running in Howard Beach's Spring Creek Park. A professional caterer who also traveled the world and wrote a blog, Vetrano normally ran with her father.
But he didn’t accompany her that day. When she didn’t return, her father called 911 to report her missing and a search was organized.
Hours later, Vetrano’s body was discovered in a marsh near the Belt Parkway bike path. Pings from her cellphone led police to a weedy area where Vetrano was found face down and her hands balled up, clutching the weeds surrounding her.
“This was a horrifying case. A vibrant, young woman’s life came to an abrupt and violent end," Queens Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan said Monday night in a statement.
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"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.”
Lewis was arrested nearly six months after Vetrano's death, and prosecutors presented evidence of Lewis' DNA found under Vetrano's fingernails.
In an interview played for jurors, Lewis told authorities he was in a bad mood that day because his neighbor had been blaring music before he encountered Vetrano jogging on the trail.
Lewis allegedly admitted that he “got angry and started hitting [Vetrano]” in the face and mouth, according to the taped interview.
But Lewis' defense lawyers insisted that confession was coerced and that the crime scene was tainted by the victim's father.
He had led a search party for his missing daughter and found her body, prompting him to lift up and hug his slain daughter.
On Monday, lawyers for Lewis asked for new hearings based on an anonymous letter that suggested "possible alternate suspects" in the case, reported NBC New York.
Prosecutors argued the anonymous letter writer was trying to "derail the trial."
The judge denied the defense motion, but the team was submitting other applications to dismiss the case against Lewis.
"Multiple legal hearings and two criminal trials, over more than two years, have already exhaustively examined the issues in this anonymous, 11th-hour letter, a missive riddled with falsehoods and inaccuracies,” the NYPD said in a statement on Monday, NBC New York reported.
Lewis, who is scheduled to be sentenced April 17, faces a maximum of life without the possibility of parole.
"It is my hope that as this case draws to a close, it will give the family of the victim some closure and comfort knowing her killer will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars," according to the prosecutor, Ryan.
Prior to Lewis' arrest, the search for Vetrano’s killer gained national attention as months went on with no answers. A GoFundMe page set up after Vetrano’s death had raised over $297,000 toward the investigative effort.
She worked as a caterer for RV Rooftop at Vetro in Howard Beach, NBC New York reported in 2016. She was a world traveler and aspiring writer, and on her blog, she wrote about her life: “It’s chaotic and unpredictable, but I do believe that on some days, it’s quite beautiful, in all its poetic little tragedies.”
David K. Li
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.