Chanel Lewis has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the 2016 murder of a woman who was out for a run. Earlier this month, Lewis, 22, wasCBS New York reported.30-year-old Karina Vetrano while she was out jogging in Spring Creek Park near her family's home in the New York City borough of Queens,
Speaking just before he sentenced Lewis for murder and sexual abuse on Tuesday, judge Michael Aloise called the crime "random, senseless, and horrific," and said it had a wide-ranging effect, creating a "collective sense to grief." The random and brutal nature of the crime had shocked her tight-knit community.
"A case like this has the effect to shake you, because it kind of dispels the fallacy that as long as we confine ourselves to our neighborhood and do what we do on a daily basis in the presence of our loved ones, that we are somehow safe," Aloise said.
Lewis maintained his innocence in a statement before he was sentenced and showed no emotion.
"I'm sorry for the family's loss, but I didn't do this," Lewis said.
Speaking to Lewis, Aloise said he hoped he would accept responsibility for the crime and seek forgiveness from God. "But I will say, when and if you come to that decision, you would do it inside a cage -- that's a guarantee."
Jurors convicted Lewis on four counts after less than five hours of deliberations on April 1. Prosecutors argued that Lewis attacked, sexually assaulted and strangled Vetrano in August of 2016 before disposing of her body in nearby weeds. Lewis was arrested six months later.
Lewis' DNA was found on Vetrano's neck and phone and underneath her fingernails, indicating she struggled with the assailant, according to Queens assistant district attorney Brad Leventhal.
Lewis' phone contained downloaded photos of the crime scene and searches for information about the case, The Associated Press reported.
Lewis also reportedly confessed after his February 2017 arrest to assaulting and strangling Vetrano, but said he didn't sexually abuse her. Lewis said in a recorded confession he was upset at someone else -- a neighbor of his who played loud music -- and "lost it" when he saw Vetrano, according to the AP.
"One thing led to another," he said in the confession. "Hitting her and stuff like that."
Attorney Leventhal called the evidence in the case "overwhelming" and said Lewis showed Vetrano "not one ounce of mercy as she
"This is a parent's worst nightmare," Leventhal said. "Their child goes out for an afternoon run, and never returns. The anguish this family has gone through these past two and a half years is unimaginable."
Lewis' defense, however, has said the investigation was flawed and claimed Lewis did not receive a fair trial. Defense attorneys said investigators bungled the process of collecting evidence from the crime scene and claimed Lewis' confession was coerced and didn't match the evidence. Supporters have claimed investigators honed in on Lewis, who is black, because of his race.
On Monday, the judge denied a defense motion to dismiss the guilty verdicts against Lewis, claiming juror misconduct, according to CBS New York. The motion came after a juror claimed the foreman told other jurors "I made up my mind already, I hope you did too" after Vetrano's parents' testimony during the trial. Jurors are instructed not to discuss the case before deliberations.
Supporters in the courtroom yelled "Chanel Lewis is innocent" as Lewis was led away in handcuffs. In a statement released to the station following his sentencing, the Legal Aid Society vowed to appeal.
"While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano's death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case – from the police investigation to jury deliberations – was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs," the statement read. "This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis's Constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial."
Lewis' family has maintained their son's innocence and vowed to seek to have his conviction thrown out, CBS New York reported. Speaking before he was sentenced, the defense told a judge Lewis' mother has rearranged her work schedule so she could attend every court hearing in support of her son.
"I feel the Vetranos' pain, because they lost a daughter," said Lewis' mother, Veta Lewis. "But I too lost a son, and my son is not the killer."
Giving an emotional victim impact statement, Vetrano's mother Cathy Vetrano described her daughter as a "warrior" and "queen." She said she was a gifted writer and used her talent for communication to help autistic children as a speech pathologist.
She called Lewis a "demon" and "predator" and implored the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
"He has shown absolutely no remorse for his deplorable crimes," Cathy Vetrano said. "He chose to execute his crimes in the most brutal and merciless manner."
Speaking after Tuesday's hearing, Vetrano's father Phil Vetrano hailed the sentence, according to CBS New York.
"Karina got justice and the murderer got his justice," he said.