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Autopsy photos of Karina Vetrano shown in retrial of her alleged killer

Parents of Howard Beach woman slain in 2016 look away as jurors see graphic images showing injuries she sustained. 

Dr. Margaret Prial, who did the autopsy on

Dr. Margaret Prial, who did the autopsy on Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano, exits a courtroom in Queens after testifying Wednesday at the retrial of accused killer Chanel Lewis. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Using autopsy photos that drew gasps from courtroom spectators, a city medical examiner described for a Queens jury Wednesday the injuries Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano sustained when she was strangled during a run near her home in the summer of 2016.

Dr. Margaret Prial told jurors in the trial of Chanel Lewis that the petite Vetrano suffered multiple abrasions, contusions, cuts and bruises, as well as injuries that were sexual in nature. The display of graphic images of their daughter caused Catherine and Philip Vetrano to bend down and hug each other to avoid looking at them. Prial, who has been with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for more than two decades, performed the autopsy on the 30-year-old Vetrano.

Lewis, 22, of Brooklyn, is being retried on murder and sexual abuse charges in connection with Vetrano's killing as she jogged in Spring Creek Park on the night of Aug. 2, 2016. Lewis’s first trial ended in a mistrial in November after the jury couldn’t agree on a unanimous verdict.

In a new twist for the retrial, Queens prosecutors used Prial, who had also testified in the last trial, to introduce additional microscopic evidence from Lewis’s outpatient hospital treatment for a hand injury the day after Vetrano died. Prosecutors with the Queens District Attorneys Office contend the injury to Lewis’s right hand was sustained as he pummeled the 4-foot 11-inch Vetrano in the park during a fit off anger. They are using Lewis's medical records from his treatment at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn to build a more extensive collection of circumstantial evidence against him.

An X-ray of Lewis’s right hand indicated a tiny foreign object near the cut fifth metacarpal joint on his right hand, which one doctor said was a classic boxer injury, an assessment with which Prial agreed. The foreign object wasn’t identified but Prial indicated it could have been a chip from a broken bonded tooth in Vetrano’s mouth. Prial also said lab cultures showed Lewis had four types of bacteria in the cut on his hand: two types generally found in the human mouth, one in feces and another in brackish water. Lewis confessed to trying to clean his injured hand in a puddle where he beat Vetrano but denied sexually abusing her, authorities have said.

Lewis was arrested on February 4, 2017 after a DNA sample he voluntarily gave to police matched genetic material found on Vetrano’s body. Defense attorneys with the Legal Aid Society claim Lewis’s confessions to the crime were coerced and the DNA was ambiguous.

Prial said the extensive bruising and scraping to Vetrano’s neck and chin indicated the hands of her attacker enveloped her throat. Asked by assistant district attorney Brad Leventhal what the cause of death was, Prial answered: “strangulation.”

The autopsy also revealed deep internal lacerations to Vetrano’s genital area, with signs of fresh bleeding, Prial said. Prosecutors and police have alleged that Lewis not only strangled Vetrano but also sexually abused her. Asked by Leventhal if those injuries could have been sustained by a foreign object or a finger, Prial said yes.

Defense attorney Julia Burke got Prial to admit that she didn’t know from the autopsy how many people attacked Vetrano. But Prial pushed back when Burke suggested in her questioning that it was odd that the hyoid bone in Vetrano's throat wasn’t broken. Prial told Burke she has done plenty of strangulation autopsies where the bone and the larynx were intact. 

The trial before Judge Michael Aloise continues Thursday with DNA expert testimony. The prosecution case could also wrap up that day.

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