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Suspect Chanel Lewis Charged With Murder In Karina Vetrano's Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The accused killer of Queens jogger Karina Vetrano is now officially charged with murder.

Chanel Lewis appeared before a judge on Tuesday morning, CBS2's Raegan Medgie reported.

Investigators say the 20-year-old strangled Vetrano when she went for a run in Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach last August.

Later that night, her retired firefighter father found her body in a marsh not far from their Howard Beach home.

In court Tuesday, Lewis' attorney told a judge his client is not guilty. But prosecutors released a new confession Lewis made the night he was taken in for questioning in February.

According to prosecutors, he confessed he was upset with a man in his neighborhood and went for a walk in Spring Creek Park. He said he saw Vetrano running and lost it.

He grabbed her and punched her in the face, prosecutors said. He said he beat her to let the emotion out, becoming more mad each time he hit her. He broke her tooth, and Vetrano scratched him.

She fell into a pond of water and he strangled her until she stopped moving, prosecutors said. He grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her into the weeds. That's when her pants fell down.

Prosecutors said he then asked detectives to tell her parents he was sorry for what he did, and that she didn't deserve it.

Vetrano's parents had nothing to say after court.

For six months, investigators combed through the federal park land, looked through surveillance video, questioned hundreds of people, and collected 600 samples of DNA — none were a match.

Investigators found DNA on her body, but it did not match anyone in the data banks. Her parents, Phil and Cathy Vetrano, asked the state to allow familial DNA testing, which allows investigators to see if a suspect's relative is in the DNA system, potentially leading them to the killer.

Detectives first approached Lewis in February, almost six months after Vetrano was found dead. Investigators said he voluntarily gave a DNA sample that came back a match.

Police say Lewis admitted to beating Vetrano, strangling her and leaving her body in the weeds.

While Lewis has no criminal history, he did get three summonses for acting suspiciously. Detectives painstakingly went through thousands of tickets and around 250 tips before tracking down Lewis.

Father Richard Lewis has said his son is not the type of person who would have done such a thing.

Lewis' supporters, like Reverend Kevin McCall, of the National Action Network, feel police have the wrong man.

"I visited Chanel twice, saw him. I know how he speaks, how articulate he is. I know his character," he said. "It totally doesn't match up."

Lewis is charged with first-degree murder, along with sexual abuse. He is due back in court on July 13.

Lewis faces a possible prison sentence of 25 years to life if convicted.


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