The accused killer of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano had pornography and evidence of web searches about forcible rape on his cellphone when it was seized by police, prosecutors disclosed in court Thursday.
Deputy Executive Assistant Queens District Attorney Brad Leventhal made the startling revelation to Queens State Supreme Court Judge Michael Aloise during a pretrial hearing for Chanel Lewis, the Brooklyn man accused of murdering and sexually abusing Vetrano in August 2016.
Leventhal said he wanted to introduce the cellphone evidence, which was seized with a search warrant when Lewis was arrested in February 2017, to show a sexual motive for the attack on Vetrano in Spring Creek Park. Aloise, who recently took over the case after the retirement of Judge Gregory Lasak, set a trial date of Oct. 29.
But defense attorney Robert Moeller of the Legal Aid Society indicated in court that he opposed the prosecution request on the grounds that the cellphone evidence was being used impermissibly to try and show Lewis had a tendency to commit the crime.
The 30-year-old Vetrano was found beaten and strangled in the park hours after she went for an evening jog on Aug. 2, 2016. A foreign object was also used to sexually abuse her, police said.
Lewis, now 22, was arrested on Feb. 5, 2017, and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated sexual abuse and other crimes after police said DNA evidence found on Vetrano’s body matched a sample he gave police. Police said Lewis gave a statement describing how he assaulted Vetrano, breaking one of her teeth and strangling her.
“I am grateful that it finally came out,” Vetrano’s father, Philip Vetrano, said after the hearing about the cellphone revelations. “Pornography, forcible rape, all searches he did on his phone before he killed Karina.”
Philip Vetrano said he knew about the cellphone evidence earlier but did not want to comment then.
Leventhal also disclosed Thursday that he wanted to introduce records of a hospital visit by Lewis a day after the murder in which he was treated for a hand injury which the prosecutor said was noted in medical records as being a “classic boxer injury.” The injury was relevant because Lewis in his confession admitted punching Vetrano in the mouth, Leventhal said.
Aloise wanted prosecutors and defense attorneys to file briefs on the evidentiary issues in two weeks and said he would render a decision on Oct. 18.
“We are at the end…..we are ready for trial,” Vetrano said.