Karina Vetrano‘s loved ones rejoiced on Monday night in a New York courtroom when jurors determined that 22-year-old Chanel Lewis was guilty of her murder. Vetrano, then 30 years old, went out jogging in 2016 and never came back home.
The video above shows that numerous family members and friends cheered and embraced one another as the guilty verdict was announced. The jury needed five hours to reach the conclusion that Lewis was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of Vetrano’s murder. Lewis’ first trial ended in mistrial.
While the defendant was emotionless at this pivotal moment, Vetrano’s parents were not.
According to CBS 2, Kathy Vetrano said, “Thank you, Jesus,” while Philip Vetrano said he was feeling “jubilation.”
DNA evidence was the key in this case, prosecutor Brad Leventhal said.
“Science determined that it was his profile on Karina’s neck. Science determined that it was his profile on her phone. And science detected that it was his DNA under her fingernails,” he said.
Lewis was found guilty of first-degree murder and sexual assault on the same day Lewis’ defense attorneys filed a motion demanding a mistrial over an anonymous letter that claimed prosecutors withheld evidence. The trial judge rejected that request.
The case went unsolved for months. The letter, first reported by The New York Daily News, said that police first thought that two “jacked up white guys from Howard Beach” killed Vetrano. Lewis’ attorneys said that police only collected the defendant’s DNA as part of a “race-biased dragnet” that involved 360 African-American men.
The first trial ended in November with a hung jury. An alternate said that he would have gone with an acquittal. Police arrested Lewis in February 2017 after months of investigating. They said DNA discovered under Vetrano’s fingernails helped identify the killer. Prosecutors said the defendant confessed to cops that he strangled the victim –a total stranger.
The defense insisted that their client made the so-called confession in a coercive environment, and while being in a windowless room for two hours without access to a phone. They also argued that defendant and victim may have separately touched the same surface, and this would explain the DNA found at the scene. They also argued that Vetrano’s father contaminated the scene accidentally.
The defense “would have you believe that the defendant’s DNA was just floating around,” Leventhal said, according to the New York Post. “It’s preposterous, certainly not reasonable.”
Lewis is scheduled to be sentenced on April 17, but his attorneys plan on appealing the verdict.
Alberto Luperon contributed to this report.
[Image via Image via CBS 2 screengrab]