QUEENS — More than two and a half years after the murder of Queens jogger Karina Vetrano, and after two trials and the postponement of the killer’s initial sentencing, Chanel Lewis learned his fate Tuesday.
The 22-year-old man convicted in the August 2016 murder and sexual assault will serve life in prison, without the chance of parole.
Lewis spoke briefly in the courtroom, just before the judge read the sentence.
“The only thing I can say, judge, is I am innocent,” Lewis said, addressing Judge Michael Aloise. “I'm sorry for the family's loss, but I didn't do this.”
Watch the sentencing:
Judge Aloise was openly skeptical of Lewis’s comment.
“Of your protestations of being innocent, that wasn't designed for me, it was designed for your followers, I'm sure,” the judge told Lewis.
Lewis was initially set to be sentenced nearly one week earlier, but it was postponed amid allegations of jury misconduct.
Judge Michael Aloise decided Monday to move forward with sentencing, despite juror Christopher Gooley saying he had felt intimidated to reach a guilty verdict quickly.
"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," the Legal Aid Society, which represents Lewis, said in a statement. "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."
Vetrano, 30, was killed as she ran on a park trail in Howard Beach, Queens. Prosecutors said Vetrano had been sexually abused. Her father discovered the body.
Cheers erupted in the courtroom three weeks ago as a jury convicted Lewis.
The case, however, has proven to be complicated as Lewis’ first trial ended in a hung jury in November 2018.
The defense argued his two taped confessions were coerced and that not enough of his DNA was found in the crime scene.
Lewis' confession, saying he was upset at someone else — a neighbor of his who played loud music — and "lost it" when he saw Vetrano.
"One thing led to another," he said in the confession. "Hitting her and stuff like that."
Lewis said he strangled Vetrano but didn't sexually abuse her.
Lewis' defense said that the DNA evidence hadn't been gathered properly and that the confession was coerced and didn't match Vetrano's injuries or some other facts.
The prosecutors, however, said the confessions came willingly and his DNA was found on Vetrano’s phone, nails and neck.
The closely watched case caused fear among women who run alone and baffled investigators, who for months were unable to find anyone who matched DNA that was found under the victim's fingernails as she fought back. Lewis was eventually tested and linked to DNA found at the scene and on the victim, according to police.
Associated Press contributed to this report.