Murdered jogger’s parents face killer
THE parents of a young woman who was murdered while jogging through a park have delivered scathing words to their daughter's killer in gut-wrenching impact statements ahead of his sentencing.
Karina Vetrano, 30, was exercising in the New York borough of Queens, US, when killer Chanel Lewis, 22, attacked and strangled her to death in 2016. Lewis was today sentenced to life in prison without parole after earlier being found guilty on all charges including murder and rape. He yawned as Judge Michael Aloise told him he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
The sentence comes one day after the judge denied a motion for a mistrial. Lewis' lawyers sought to have the verdict thrown out after there were two claims of jury misconduct. Lewis' first trial ended with a hung jury in November and the retrial has been a rollercoaster of eye-opening revelations and heartbreaking testimony.
Judge Aloise told Lewis "you brutally and savagely molested murdered this young girl" and suggested he turn to God who is "eager to forgive".
"If you do come to that decision, you'll do it inside a cage, that's a guarantee," the judge said.
Moments before Lewis learned of his fate on Tuesday morning, Karina Vetrano's parents Cathy and Philip each stared down their daughter's "monster" killer and laid their broken hearts bare, in Queens County Criminal Court.
Mr Vetrano, who found his daughter's lifeless body dumped on an overgrown path near where they used to run together, said the family was devastated. His grief was palpable as he told the judge his "heart was ripped out that night".
"That monster killed four people that night. One is in heaven, the others walk the street as zombies waiting to be with Karina again," Mr Vetrano said.
"Only my faith in God and belief in heaven keeps me from killing myself for fear of not being allowed to see my baby again.
"There are no more merry Christmases, no more happy New Years, no more happy birthdays," he said through tears.
"There's no more pleasure in life. No more smiles. No more happiness. Those were all taken by that convicted, murdering rapist."
Mr Vetrano also spoke directly to his daughter's killer saying he had a message to deliver on her behalf.
"If you stand up in court and say you're sorry, she will forgive you," he said. "Remember these are not my words. These are her words. I will never forgive you."
Cathy Vetrano also took the stand and told Lewis he was a "pathetic, evil coward" who "carried out the work of Satan".
"Chanel Lewis slaughtered me as well with the gruesome slaying of my soul," Ms Vetrano said through tears.
"The second you put your hands on a child of God, you rejected the Holy Spirit and acted out as the devil.
"So repulsive are you, that you left her hidden to be further desecrated in the summer heat by bugs and animals … like a snake, you slithered away into the night with your secrets and lies.
"My hope is that you live a long life within the prison of the law and the prison of your conscience."
The devastated mother called the sentencing "Karina's day - it's her and hers alone".
"This is a day where we acknowledge that Karina's life matters," Ms Vetrano told the court before holding up the pair of white shoes her daughter wore to work on the day of her murder.
"As tiny as they are, these are the shoes of a giant - a valiant warrior and a queen," she said
Karina Vetrano's adult sister and brother also gave impassioned victim impact statements.
"Chanel Lewis showed my sister Karina no mercy and I ask that the court show him no mercy," her sister Tana said.
Lewis, who waved to his family with his hands cuffed behing his back before sitting down, otherwise appeared expressionless. He gave only a brief statement in which he maintained his innocence before he was sentenced.
"I'm sorry for the family's loss, but I didn't do this," he said.
Outside the court, Lewis' mother Veta told reporters her son was framed.
"I still believe and I know that my son is innocent," she said.
Lewis' defence team has vowed to appeal the verdict.
Karina Vetrano's family has repeatedly said they have no doubt of Lewis's guilt. Outside court today, Mr Vetrano told reporters that "Karina got justice and the murderer got justice".
Ms Vetrano vanished after telling her father she was going for a run in the local park at around 5pm on 2 August 2016. Mr Vetrano had declined to join her because he was having back problems.
When she didn't return, the worried father called his police chief neighbour, John Cassidy, and a large scale manhunt followed, with 100 detectives assigned to the case before Mr Vetrano found her body. She had been beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted before she was left on the weed-covered path with her top and shorts pulled down at Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach.
Detectives collected saliva samples from men who had been arrested in the surrounding areas, including Lewis, of East New York, Brooklyn.
Forensics teams said his DNA matched traces found on Ms Vetrano's neck and phone, as well as a mixture from two of her fingernails.
Prosecutors said the accused had a hand injury the day after the killing, which a doctor said was consistent with punching someone.
Lewis initially confessed to the crime during a police interview, but later said he had been coerced.