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Testimony: Defendant's cellphone used near site of Karina Vetrano killing

Cell towers near Spring Creek Park detected a device belonging to Chanel Lewis, charged with murder, on the evening the jogger was strangled to death in 2016, T-Mobile employees testified.

NYPD Det. Joshue Rivera at state Supreme Court

NYPD Det. Joshue Rivera at state Supreme Court in Queens on Tuesday, when he testified that he did a forensic examination of defendant Chanel Lewis' cellphone. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The cellphone of the man accused of murdering Karina Vetrano appeared to have been active and in the vicinity of Spring Creek Park the evening she was strangled to death, according to Tuesday testimonies by employees of a mobile telephone company.

Testifying as a prosecution witness in the murder trial of Chanel Lewis, T-Mobile engineer Dan Craciunoi said his analysis of cell tower activity on the night of Aug. 2, 2016, indicated Lewis' phone was near a tower at 162-31 Cross Bay Blvd. in Howard Beach as well as on Loring Avenue, about a half-mile north of the park.

Craciunoi, who has been employed by T-Mobile for about 12 years, said the azimuth, or direction, of two cell towers that picked up the cellphone indicated its general location. One azimuth was at 165 degrees, or a south direction, from the tower at 1307 Loring Ave. in Brooklyn, while the other azimuth from the Cross Bay Boulevard location was at 227 degrees, or a southwest direction, Carciunoi said.

The direction of the two azimuth lines pointed to the general area of Howard Beach and Spring Creek Park, according the testimony and a map created by prosecutors.

Earlier, Susan Johnson, another T-Mobile official, testified that Lewis’ cellphone registered a short call and two voice messages that used the Loring Avenue cell tower once and the Cross Bay Boulevard location atop Russo’s on the Bay restaurant a total of five times. The first cell activity was around 5:06 p.m. the day of the killing and the last was at 5:09 p.m.

Other testimony indicated that Vetrano, 30, left for her jog shortly after 5 p.m. When she didn’t return home by 6 p.m., her father became concerned and called an NYPD friend for help.

On cross-examination, Craciunoi admitted the cell tower triangulation method gave a “likely” but not exact location for the device, acknowledging that sometimes the nearest tower wouldn't pick up a cellphone.

The cellphone testimonies came on the fifth day of the trial of Lewis, 22, a Brooklyn resident who is charged with first- and second-degree murder. He is accused of killing Vetrano after he encountered her by chance on a jogging path and attacked her in a fit of anger sparked by problems he had at home. Police said Vetrano was beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted.

Tuesday’s cellphone testimony offered circumstantial evidence that the prosecution was apparently using to show Lewis was in the proximity of the park the night of the killing and to corroborate his own confession that he was in the park at the time Vetrano was jogging.

Also Tuesday, NYPD Det. Joshue Rivera of the computer crime squad testified that he did a forensic examination of Lewis’ cellphone and found it had a number of web searches about various subjects related to the Vetrano case up until Lewis' Feb. 4, 2017, arrest. Rivera also testified how Lewis’ cellphone contained evidence of web searches as far back as November 2016 about familial DNA, Miranda warnings and other aspects of the criminal justice system, including pretrial diversion and prosecutorial discretion.

But on cross-examination, Rivera said he couldn’t tell who made those searches from the cellphone.

The trial continues Wednesday before Judge Michael Aloise and is expected to have testimony about DNA evidence found in the case and Vetrano’s autopsy.

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