Who Is Chanel Lewis? New Details About The Man Who Murdered Karina Vetrano

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Who Is Chanel Lewis? New Details About The Man Who Murdered Karina Vetrano

Justice for Karina Vetrano has finally been served. 

The 30-year-old speech pathologist from Howard Beach, Queens disappeared after going on a run near her home on Aug. 2, 2016. Typically, she ran with her father, a retired firefighter, but he stayed home that day due to an injury. When his daughter failed to come home, he called the police. 

Later that night, her body was found on the side of a running path. She was face-down and had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

It would be two more years before her murder trial would begin, with a 21-year-old man named Chanel Lewis being accused of her murder. The 2018 trial ended in a hung jury, but after a retrial, he was convicted for Vetrano's murder on April 1, 2019.

So who is Chanel Lewis? Here's everything we know about the convicted murderer.

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1. He was first arrested in 2017.

It would take almost a year before police arrested Lewis for Vetrano's murder. 

After following over 250 leads, they finally connected Lewis to the crime by matching his DNA to what was found under the victim's fingernails, back and phone. Police say she was a "ferocious fight right to the end."

After a 12-hour long interrogation, Lewis finally confessed to the murder, "I beat her to let my emotions out." He was an East New York resident who went to a high school for "children experiencing emotional and behavioral problems."

“I never really meant to hurt her, it just happened," he said.

2. There were issues regarding the DNA.

In the original trial, a medical examiner suggested that the DNA found under Vetrano's fingernails was less solid and based on a forensic testing method that is not only controversial but has since been discontinued.

“Karina helped us identify this person,” Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce initially told reporters after Lewis' arrest.

Documents from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that another set of DNA was found at the crime scene on an Arizona fruit punch bottle. That DNA did not match Lewis. The medical examiner said that though his DNA matched what was found on her cellphone and on her back, it did not match what was under her fingernails, despite what the NYPD had originally said. 

3. His family believes his confession was coerced.

Lewis had pleaded not guilty, and his family says that his alleged confession was coerced by the police.

The former legal director for the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University examined Lewis' confession for The Daily Beast.

“The description of the crime seems like a narrative that may have been fed to him,” Steven Drizin said. “That he just snapped. That he just lost it. People generally just don’t lose it, beat women to death, strangle them, and pull their clothes down for no reason. Because he’s angry that his neighbors played music too loud? That raises concerns for me.”

“There’s nothing in his confession that suggests there was a sexual component to this, and that’s concerning.”

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4. His arrest was controversial as well.

Months before Vetrano's murder, a lieutenant named John Russo spotted Lewis walking in Howard Beach and felt that he was "suspicious." He saw him walking again the following day and called the police. 

Lewis was frisked and released. 

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A year later, after Vetrano had been murdered, it was Russo that told police they should look into Lewis. When they did, they found a bunch of calls Lewis had made to the police saying that he "wanted to hurt girls."

His lawyers argued that all the evidence against him should be inadmissible in court because they were from an unlawful frisk done out of him being racially profiled; especially seeing that Howard Beah is predominantly a white neighborhood and Lewis is black. 

A judge ruled in 2018 that all evidence could be used. Still, his lawyers said police rushed Lewis' arrest because the case had gained nationwide attention.

“It was going nowhere. They were starting to get, I don’t want to use the word desperate but they needed to prove this,” Robert Moeller told The Wall Street Journal. “They wanted to solve this case. So along comes somebody and, oh, the profile fits.”

5. He was found guilty of murder and sexual abuse.

It only took the jury five hours to find Lewis guilty of first-degree murder and sexual abuse. Still, there is doubt about his conviction

An anonymous letter was sent to the Legal Aid Society that claimed police had initially believed two "jacked up white guys from Howard Beach" had murdered Vetrano. The contents of this letter have not been fully revealed.

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Emily Blackwood is a writer and editor living in California. She covers all things news, pop culture, and true crime.