The man accused of killing Karina Vetrano as she jogged through Spring Creek Park in August 2016 told police that he listened to underground rap music in the moments just before attacking her on a path near her Howard Beach home, according a videotaped confession he gave to police.
Chanel Lewis, now 22, in on trial for Vetrano’s murder in Queens State Supreme Court and, in testimony Friday, NYPD Det. Barry Brown told jurors how he and a colleague sat down with Lewis, who told them how he attacked Vetrano in a rage of anger over something that happened at his home.
“I was mad at her and attacked her,” Lewis said on the video made in an interrogation room of 107th Precinct in the early morning of Feb. 5, 2017, following his arrest on murder charges.
At times taciturn and mumbling, and other times more expansive, Lewis — under questioning by Brown — said he grabbed Vetrano, 30, as she jogged near him, punched her about five times and strangled her before dragging her lifeless body into the weeds off the park trail. At one point, Lewis said Vetrano was face down in a puddle on the running path, leading him to believe she had drowned.
Brown repeatedly questioned Lewis about the impetus for the attack and Lewis kept saying he was mad because a man, whom he didn’t identify, had visited his mother’s home in East New York and played music. Lewis told cops he was listening to music by the rapper Arsonal when he confronted Vetrano.
“I got mad and threw her in the bushes,” Lewis said on the video. Vetrano’s body was found about 30 feet from the running trail by her father and police officers the night of Aug. 2, 2016. Her sports bra and running shorts had been partially pulled off and there were signs of sexual abuse, the prosecution is alleging.
But in his confession, Lewis denied doing anything sexual to Vetrano and said her clothes became disheveled when he dragged her off the trail.
As the police video played, Vetrano’s parents, Catherine and Philip, as well as her older sister, Tana, clutched each other.
After twice refusing to give a statement, Lewis agreed to talk to police after he was read his Miranda rights. While he was in a holding cell, Lewis began speaking, saying he wanted to talk to the Vetrano family, Brown recalled.
“I said, ‘No, what are you talking about Chanel?' ” Brown said. The detective said he then asked Lewis if he wanted to talk about the incident and, when he indicated he did, police brought the defendant back into the interrogation room. Lewis was again read his Miranda rights and he agreed to give a statement, Brown said.
Defense attorneys for Lewis indicated in their opening statements that they intended to attack whether his statements to police were done voluntarily, suggesting that he was kept incommunicado for a few hours and may have been coached by detectives. But the police video showed Lewis at times giving monosyllabic answers and other times expanding on what he said. He also pointed out on a map where things had occurred the night of the killing. Police were overheard on related videos repeatedly asking Lewis if he wanted water, food, or needed to use the bathroom. Cops also told him he was under arrest for murder. Brown said Lewis was allowed to call his family later the morning of Feb. 5 after he had given his confession.
Lewis gave a second statement to prosecutors later that morning, repeating much of what he had told Brown earlier. At one point Lewis indicated he may have thought the prosecutor was his attorney, asking the lawyer: “You are the attorney, right?” The prosecutor told him, “I am the district attorney.”
Lewis asked about restitution but the prosecutors were noncommittal.
“What is going to happen to me?” Lewis asked.
Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal, Brown said that when Lewis was being driven to court for his arraignment he asked if Vetrano’s mother would be in court. Brown recalled that Lewis said he wanted police to tell Catherine Vetrano that “he is sorry.”
The trial resumes Tuesday.