BY NATHAN DUKE
The Brooklyn man accused of murdering Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano has pleaded not guilty, but law enforcement sources released a confession this week that was allegedly made by him while in police custody.
East New York’s Chanel Lewis, 20, was arraigned Tuesday before Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak on a 13-count indictment charging him with murder and sexual abuse in the strangulation death of Vetrano, 30, a Howard Beach resident who went missing in August after she had gone out for a jog, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
The indictment charged Lewis with four counts of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree aggravated sexual abuse. If convicted, Lewis could face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The defendant, who has been held without bail since his arrest, will return to court on July 13.
The Legal Aid Society, which is defending Lewis, released a statement on Tuesday.
“Today, Chanel Lewis officially pleaded not guilty to all charges of the indictment,” the statement read. “Under New York State law, the Queens district attorney’s office must now begin to disclose and turn over all evidence related to the prosecution of this case. Our defense team looks forward to closely reviewing all case documents during this process.”
But the case’s prosecutors released statements on Tuesday that were allegedly made by Lewis to police following his arrest.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” Lewis allegedly told a detective at the 107th Detective Squad on Feb. 5. “When I saw her, I just lost it.”
In a videotaped statement moments later, Lewis allegedly described for detectives how he had been walking in Spring Creek Park on the day of Vetrano’s murder.
“I was mad and I was walking on the trail, listening to music,” he allegedly told the detectives. “She was running toward me and I just lost it. She didn’t do anything. I was just mad at that time. I beat her to let my emotions out. I never really meant to hurt her. It just happened. I fought with her for about five minutes. She scratched my face. I hit her about five times and knocked her out. Her teeth broke. I got madder and madder and I strangled her. After that, there was a puddle of water and she fell into it. She drowned.”
Nearly five hours later, Lewis allegedly gave more description of the event to two different detectives.
“While I was hitting her, she scratched my face,” he allegedly said. “I put both my hands around her neck and strangled her…. I grabbed both of her wrists and I pulled her off the path and into the weeds. Her pants came off while I was dragging her. The whole thing took about five minutes.”
Lewis is alleged to have also told detectives to tell his mother that he was “sorry.”
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.