HOWARD BEACH, Queens — A Brooklyn man was charged Sunday in the death of Karina Vetrano, who was murdered while jogging in a marshy area in Howard Beach last August.
Chanel Lewis, 20, was charged with second-degree murder and is being held without bail, police said. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
“The person allegedly responsible for her brutal murder finally has been brought to justice,” Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said.
Lewis was taken into police custody about 6 p.m. Saturday after investigators followed hundreds of leads from the public and sifted through more than 1,700 investigative reports, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said in a news conference Sunday.
Investigators, however, had Lewis on their radar since Thursday when they paid a visit to him at his East New York home.
“He freely gave a [mouth] swab of his DNA to us. We brought that immediately to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Within two days we had a hit,” Boyce said.
Police also developed a profile of Lewis after linking him to pieces of DNA that were found underneath Vetrano’s fingernails, neck and her cellphone, Boyce said. He also gave “detailed incriminating statements and admissions” when he was taken into custody.
“Karina helped us identify this person,” Boyce said. “The big thing is, we got it from her, from her person.”
It’s believed that it was a chance encounter that led to Vetrano’s death on Aug. 2, 2016, Boyce said. Officials believe Lewis did not know Vetrano before the crime.
Vetrano, 30, went on a solo run about 5 p.m. in a marshland in Howard Beach and never came home. Her father, who is a retired FDNY official, found her body with police, just 15 feet off the jogging path about 10:40 p.m. in Spring Creek Park. Vetrano’s body was so badly beaten that her teeth were knocked out.
A search warrant is currently being executed in Lewis’ Brooklyn home, Boyce said.
Queens council member Eric Ulrich, whose district covers Howard Beach, issued a statement following the announcement of Lewis’ arrest.
“With the arrest of Chanel Lewis, a suspect in custody in connection with the gruesome murder of Karina Vetrano, hopefully the Vetrano family can begin to have closure and the entire community can breath a sigh of relief. I commend the NYPD officers who worked on the case and the office of the Queens District Attorney for their tireless efforts identifying and arresting this individual. Justice will be served.”
The DNA samples that eventually led detectives to Lewis were retrieved from Vetrano’s body in August. The sample, however, found no match on a national or state DNA database at the time.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the NYPD in the search for Vetrano’s killer last December.
Earlier this week, the NYPD’s Police Commissioner and Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown, requested for a state forensic lab to do “familial searching” that would look for male relatives of the unknown killer in the case. The process would require DNA testing be performed on the “Y” chromosome of the crime scene samples — which can produce common, male profiles on men that are relatives — a father, uncle, brother, or son.
Cathie and Philip Vetrano were also calling for familial searching to be done in the murder case.
“The only people you’re dragging into this are criminals,” Philip Vetrano told PIX11 News last December, “criminals that are in the database.”
Clarification: Mother Cathie Vetrano’s name was initially spelled incorrectly, due to an error on a GoFundMe page. It has since been fixed.