The Brooklyn man charged with the killing of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano told police he strangled the victim after a chance encounter in Spring Creek Park in Queens in which he “just lost it,” officials said in court Tuesday.
“I never really meant to hurt her, it just happened. I fought with her for about five minutes, she scratched my face. I hit her about five times and knocked her out. Her teeth broke. I got madder and madder and I strangled her,” Chanel Lewis told police in a Feb. 5 videotaped statement that was read in court.
Lewis, of East New York, pleaded not guilty through his Legal Aid Society attorneys to charges of first- and second-degree murder, aggravated sexual abuse and other offenses. He said nothing during the brief court appearance before Queens state Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Curtis told Lasak that Lewis described to police the moment when he confronted a jogging Vetrano, 30, in the park on Aug. 2, 2016.
“I was just mad at that time. I beat her to let my emotions out,” said Lewis, 20.
The courtroom was hushed as Curtis quoted the substance of six statements, both oral and videotaped, which Lewis gave to officers and then detectives from February 2 to February 5, 2017, as the investigation zeroed in on him.
Karina’s mother Catherine Vetrano sat upright in her seat as Curtis continued to read, her eyes fixed on Lewis. A female friend stroked her left shoulder to comfort her. Her husband Phil Vetrano also showed no emotion in court but later in a statement to Newsday said he was trying hard to control his anger and sensed the same with his wife.
“There was anger, but there was a fire coming out of Catherine,” said Philip Vetrano about the depth of emotion the couple felt listening to the details of their daughter’s violent death.
Karina was strangled in the park near her home as she trained for a possible run in a marathon later that year in Cuba, her family said. Her father found her body later that night along with police after she failed to return home.
In his statements to detectives, copies of which were made available, Lewis said he left home earlier that day after a man came around his home where he lived with his mother. The man, who wasn’t identified “played music and he brought around a lot of his friends,” said Lewis in his statement, adding that “I didn’t like that stuff, I like peace and quiet and so I would go roam the streets and walk around.”
Lewis said in the statement that he went to Spring Creek Park on August 2 around 5 p.m. and that “I was mad and I was walking around the trail listening to music. She was running toward me and I just lost it. She didn’t do anything.”
At various points in his conversation with cops, Lewis said he wanted to speak to the Vetrano family to say he was sorry and that he wanted to change his life.
Lasak ordered Lewis held without bail. A new court date was set for July 13.
Outside the courthouse, Lewis’ mother Vita Lewis insisted her son was innocent and that prosecutors had concocted the statements.
“It is a lie, they are framing my son,” she said. “He didn’t say that. The prosecutor is the one that made up all these lies.”
Asked about the DNA evidence prosecutors said they have linking Lewis firmly to the crime scene, Chris Bank, a friend of Lewis’ mother, said that would play out in court.
“He is a wonderful, wonderful son,” said Vita Lewis, calling the charges “bogus.” In Howard Beach, Philip Vetrano visited a stone memorial he made for his daughter in the park at the spot he found her body. He said his wife never visits but dropped off a Easter basket last Sunday.