The father of the 20-year-old Brooklyn man arrested and charged with murdering Queens jogger Karina Vetrano said on Sunday that his son is a ‘very humble kid’ who ‘would never have gone to do what they say he has done.’
Chanel Lewis is accused of beating, raping and strangling Vetrano, 30, in Spring Creek Park near Howard Beach on August 2 last year.
His father, Richard Lewis, a retired school principal, told the New York Post on Sunday that he was ‘extremely’ surprised at the news of Chanel Lewis’ arrest.
‘Chanel would never have gone to do what they say he has done,’ Richard Lewis said.
‘He’s never had a fight in his 20 years,’ he said.
Lewis said that his son was a good student who was planning for a career in social services.
He said that his son had even received recommendations from his high school principal.
To drive home the point, Lewis showed reporters his son’s diploma that he earned from Martin De Porres High School in Far Rockaway, Queens.
‘He’s a humble kid. He’s a very humble kid.’
He added he’d been the victim of a mugging earlier in the year and was once hospitalized after being beaten with a piece of wood by random attackers.
The suspect’s father said while he was sorry for Vetrano’s death, he believes his child is innocent.
In a plea to the jogger’s parents, he said: ‘I’m sorry to hear about [your daughter], but I’m sure that [Chanel] would not be a part of that.
Cathy Vetrano hurled angry abuse at Lewis as he was arraigned on Sunday night.
‘He f—ing murdered my daughter, my beautiful innocent daughter. Now your nightmare begins,’ she screamed in court.
The Vetrano murder received significant media attention in the days and weeks following the incident, yet Lewis said that he was never familiar with the details of the case until this weekend.
‘I saw it on the television this morning,’ Richard Lewis said. ‘I’ve never heard about it. I’ve never read about it. Nothing at all.’
Police sources gave a different description of the 20-year-old who they said had a ‘deep seated’ anger towards women.
‘He’s had previous incidents in which he has expressed a hatred for women. He’s thought of hurting women or attacking women.
‘He’s expressed a deep-seated aggression towards women. But it was nothing he’s ever acted on,’ one told New York Daily News on Monday.
Chanel was arrested on Saturday evening at his home in East New York, Brooklyn, where he lives with his mother and adult sisters after police matched his DNA to some found under Vetrano’s fingernails.
One of Vetrano’s neighbors in Howard Beach called 911 to report him acting suspiciously in the park in May, two months before her killing.
Detectives investigating the murder came across a log of the call while carrying out a ‘deep dive’ into all reports made in the area as they tried desperately to make headway after months of dead ends.
They tracked Lewis down to his mother’s house on Thursday to extract a DNA sample and found a hit two days later after testing it against traces found on the jogger’s body.
NYPD detectives said once he was in custody, Lewis made ‘detailed’ descriptions of ‘each step’ of the attack.
Lewis was heckled as he made his way into a police car on Sunday by Queens residents who screamed ‘murderer’ as he emerged from the 107th Precinct.
He is due to be arraigned at a court in Queens on Sunday night.
Phil and Cathy Vetrano, the slain jogger’s parents, said they would be in court to watch him face ‘justice’.
‘We would stop at nothing to find the savage that did this to her. The demon must get his justice and we will see to it,’ Mrs Vetrano told New York Daily News.
Her husband said they could finally move forward to the ‘next phase’ of their grief and commended the NYPD for ‘good, hard, old fashioned investigative work’.
NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Bryce confirmed Lewis’s arrest on Sunday at a press conference.
Lewis has no previous criminal record but has three court summonses for suspicious behavior in a bicycle track at Spring Creek Park. Chief Bryce would not disclose what the previous ‘issues’ were for.
In May, a resident in Howard Beach, Queens, called 911 to report him acting suspiciously near Spring Creek Park where the jogger died.
Detectives investigating Vetrano’s death found a record of the call as they purged through hundreds of reports and similar phone-ins while trying to make headway in the case.
They were able to identify Lewis from the caller’s description and track him to his mother’s home in East New York with the help of a Howard Beach lieutenant, Boyce said.
‘We found a 911 call prior to the homicide of him being in Howard Beach.
‘We had a member of community call to say he was a suspicious person which we get all the time.
‘From that we had a profile. He does have a number of summonses, he has no criminal record,’ he said.
It’s not clear what was done about the call at the time.
Lewis was charged with second degree murder on Sunday afternoon and is likely to be charged with sexual assault.
It matched traces of previously unidentified DNA found beneath Vetrano’s fingernails, signs she tried to fight him off as he attacked her.
A hand print left on her back also matched him as did DNA found on her cell phone. Detectives were still searching his home on Sunday as Chief Boyce spoke.
‘Karina helped us identify is person, she had the DNA under her nails, touch DNA on her back and she had DNA on her cell phone.’
Boyce would not be drawn on details of Lewis’s mental state or social status but said he does not work and lives at home with his mother Veta. She has not commented on his arrest.
He is not thought to have ever met Vetrano before the August 2 attack, police said.
‘He gave very detailed, incriminating statements. We don’t believe he knew her at all. It appears to be a chance encounter.
‘I don’t think there was any stalking,’ he said, adding the suspect’s had described ‘each step of the assault’.
‘It’s there where he received those three court summonses for various issues,’ he said.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Lewis was facing charges for murder and sexual assault.
‘We’re still doing a lot of the paperwork that needs to be done but we’re satisfied we have a solid case that has been put together by everyone involved.’
They could no confirm whether familial DNA testing, which the Vetrano family had pushed for, played any role in the investigation.
Phil Vetrano, the jogger’s father, was due to go running with her on the night she died but didn’t because of an injury.
He and his wife have maintained an active public profile since their daughter’s deaths in order to catch her killer.
They are still campaigning for familial DNA testing, which examines the DNA of potential suspects’ family members to rule them in or out of crimes, to become commonplace.
It’s not clear whether it played a part in Lewis’s arrest.