A 20-year-old Brooklyn man has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Karina Vetrano, the Queens jogger whose body was found in a Howard Beach park six months ago, police said.
Chanel Lewis was linked to the case by DNA evidence, Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said during a press conference in Ozone Park, Queens, on Sunday.
Lewis was taken into custody Saturday evening outside his East New York home, police said. He was ordered held without bail and is expected in court on Feb. 21. Officials said more charges may result.
“This is a very good day for justice in New York City,” said Boyce said Sunday, following Lewis' arrest. He added that police followed some 250 leads in the case. “It was a tremendous effort on the part of the NYPD over the last sixth months.”
Vetrano, 30, went for a run around 5 p.m. on Aug. 2 near her Howard Beach home. A few hours later, her body was found face down in a marshy area, about 15 feet from a trail near 161st Avenue and 78th Street in Spring Creek Park, police said.
Investigations turned to Lewis recently, according to Boyce. A profile developed through a 911 call of a suspicious person in the area of the park that was phoned in in May — months before the attack. Boyce said investigators happened on the call during a “deep dive” into the case.
Police first spoke with Lewis on Feb. 2. Lewis cooperated during that visit, allowing police to take a swab of his DNA, Boyce said.
Lewis' DNA matched samples police had recovered from Vetrano’s neck, under her fingernails and on her cellphone — all evidence that Vetrano put out a ferocious fight against her attacker.
Police then moved in, arresting Lewis outside his home around 6 p.m. Saturday.
“Within two days, we had a hit,” Boyce said.
A law enforcement source said during interviews, Lewis mentioned a puddle that was near where Vetrano's body was found. Lewis’ recollection of the puddle, according to the source familiar with the case, proved to investigators he had indeed been in the park at the time of Vetrano’s killing, which police said he confessed to committing in statements to police.
Lewis is unemployed and lives with his mother, police said. He doesn’t have a criminal record, but police identified three quality-of-life summonses dating to 2013 that Lewis received in the area near the Howard Beach crime scene.
Boyce said the high-profile homicide appeared to be a chance encounter, but couldn’t confirm that aspect of the crime.
“We don’t get a lot of crime there. This is very unusual,” Boyce said. “This is a rural part of New York City.”
Reached at his Howard Beach home, Vetrano’s father said Boyce came to his house immediately after the news conference.
“The cops did a great job,” Philip Vetrano said. “My days have been spent searching for this killer, now I don’t know what I will do … At least now we can start to grieve like a family which lost its child.”
Vetrano added that he will still be testifying at a special state hearing Friday in Manhattan to ask officials to authorize “familial searching,” a DNA analysis method that some experts believe may have focused detectives earlier on a possible suspect in the case.
On Sunday, there was a huge police presence outside Lewis' Essex Street home in East New York. Cops at the home said it was an active crime scene.
Ann Douglas, 30, who said she works in multimedia, lives across the street from Lewis and his family but didn’t know them well.
She was shocked to hear the news. “It’s a sigh of relief, but it’s just scary to know that the suspect had been living right here for so long,” said Douglas.
“This is a great day for the community and the detectives that worked day in and day out and of course it will hopefully bring some closure to the Vetrano family,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
With Anthony M. DeStefano