The man accused in the shocking murder and sexual assault of a young New York City jogger last summer is set to be arraigned later Sunday, bringing a close to a six-month investigation that gripped the region.
Chanel Lewis, 20, was taken into custody on Saturday night after police matched his DNA to samples taken from the victim, 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, and the surrounding crime scene, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said during a Sunday news conference. Lewis is also alleged to have made “detailed incriminating statements.”
"The demon must get his justice," said Vetrano's mom, Cathy. "We will see to it."
Vetrano's parents had mixed emotions as they commented to reporters, including one from The New York Daily News, outside their home on Sunday. While Cathy spoke of vengeance, Phil Vetrano talked about the path ahead.
"I'm not going to say it is a good day, but we can move forward now," he said. "We know who did this."
Authorities zeroed in on Lewis following an extensive probe into the Howard Beach park where Vetrano was found murdered and assaulted on Aug. 2.
A plethora of cameras – both city-run and those of private homeowners – helped investigators rule out the killer entering or exiting the park from the Howard Beach side. Once police turned their attention to the East New York side, Lewis began coming into focus as a suspect, Boyce said.
Investigators, who pored through more than 250 leads and 1,700 investigative reports, initially began looking at Lewis following the discovery of a 911 call from May reporting a suspicious person in the area that turned out to be Lewis. Authorities soon developed a profile of Lewis and uncovered multiple summonses issued to him placing him in the area dating back to 2013.
An off-duty officer also saw Lewis acting suspiciously somewhere in Howard Beach after the murder, and called the local precinct. Lewis was questioned at that time, but police found no valid reason to hold him and he was released without charges, sources told The New York Post.
During an interview with police on Thursday, Lewis “freely” allowed officials to swab his cheek for DNA, which was quickly matched to the DNA found on and around Vetrano, Boyce said. Investigators had found the DNA of Vetrano’s suspected attacker on her cellphone, neck and fingernails.
Lewis, who does not work and lives at home with his mother, was arrested without incident at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Investigators on Sunday were executing a search warrant at his home.
Boyce said police don’t believe Vetrano was stalked and that the murder occurred following a “chance encounter.”
“We don’t believe he knew her at all,” Boyce said.
Richard Lewis said his son, Chanel, wanted to be a social worker and was taking classes toward that end. Richard told NBC4 that Chanel was a "good and humble kid."
"It's extremely surprising because he's not the person for that," Lewis said. "Chanel would have never gone to do what they say he has, he would never."
The latest development in the murder investigation came a few days after Vetrano's parents called for the New York State Commission on Forensic Science to allow familial DNA matching in New York, which lets police search the state and federal DNA database to see if a suspect's relative is in the system.