Detective Honored In Vetrano Murder Case


Brooklyn’s Chanel R. Lewis was charged April 5 in a 13-count indictment in the murder of Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, while Lt. John Russo was honored for his tireless work in the case that led to Lewis’ arrest.

photo courtesy of city council
Lt. John Russo and Councilman Eric Ulrich at City Hall

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said that Lewis is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual abuse and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse.

The defendant could face up to life in prison without parole if convicted. When initially charged on Feb. 5, Lewis was held without bail.

On the same day as the DA’s announcement regarding the indictment, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) honored Russo, a 19-year veteran of the city’s Police Department, for his work on the case. Russo’s discovery of Lewis’ past stop-and-frisk files ultimately led to the defendant’s apprehension. Ulrich presented Russo with a proclamation during a City Council meeting.

“Karina’s picture was a picture my family and I saw in every store we went into [and] every block we drove down,” Russo said. “We were constantly reminded, just being in the neighborhood, of this unsolved murder. I’ve met people that I didn’t know telling me that they were nervous about letting their children out and now that the case is solved, it’s a little more comfort for everyone.”

Lt. Commander Russo was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Maspeth and Middle Village, and attended Queens College. He graduated from the police academy in 1998, was assigned to the 17th Precinct and, a year later, was promoted to its plain-clothes anticrime unit. After three years, he was promoted to be a “white-shield investigator” for the 17th Precinct Detective Squad and worked at the World Trade Center’s ground-zero recovery sites.

Over the next eight years, he was also 1st Precinct field intelligence officer and representative for the intelligence division in the Manhattan South Grand Larceny Initiative. He was named Detective of the Year in 2002. Russo was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to the 9th Precinct in 2008, and then transferred to the 13th Precinct Detective Squad and became a commanding officer in 2009. While there, he was also the detective bureau investigative coordinator and liaison to the chief of department and police commissioner’s office. He became lieutenant commander of detectives in August 2012.

Ulrich said that Russo was a local “hero.”

“For many months, there was a profound sense of sorrow and grief that swept over not only Howard Beach, but all of New York,” Ulrich said “We’re honoring a hometown hero. He is truly one of New York’s finest, and it’s because of him that we were able to make an arrest in this case, bring about some justice and, hopefully, bring about some closure not only for the Vetrano family, but for the community, who also felt the pain that was caused as a result of this heinous crime.”

On Aug. 2, Vetrano left for a jog at approximately 5 p.m. from the Howard Beach home she shared with her parents. After an hour, her father became worried that she had not returned. The police were alerted and, within two hours, the NYPD was searching for the young woman on foot and in helicopters. Her body was spotted by helicopter. Her father and police officers reached her body moments later.

Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, or @JonathanSCronin.

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