It was over six months ago that 30 year-old Karina Vetrano went for a jog at Spring Creek Park near Howard Beach, Queens, New York and did not return. Karina was found raped and murdered prompting a massive manhunt that left the New York City Police without a suspect. Police had several leads but all fell short when trying to identify a suspect. Police hoped that DNA evidence would serve as a link to Karina’s killer as she scratched the attacker leaving his DNA under her fingernails, however, it was not a match to any State or National database, leaving Police still searching for a suspect.
The New York City Police recently had a break in the case when Lt. John Russo, a Detective, recalled several complaints about three months before Karina’s murder regarding a “suspicious person” holding a crowbar in the area adjacent to Spring Creek Park. At the time of the complaints, Police located the individual, Chanel Lewis, and questioned him as to what he was doing in the area, but nothing came of it. Lt. Russo felt that Lewis may have been a person they should have looked into further.
Acting on Lt. Russo’s hunch, Police uncovered that the day after Karina’s murder Lewis went to the hospital for what he claimed were injuries to his hand, sustained when he was mugged. Lt. Russo believed that Lewis’ injuries and their proximity to the date Karina was murdered, coupled with his complained of behavior in the area where she was found, was very unsettling and asked Lewis to submit to a DNA test.
Lewis complied with the DNA test, which came back as a match to that found under Karina’s fingernails, and was subsequently arrested on February 4. Lewis was charged with second degree murder and once in police custody gave a detailed and incriminating account of what happened on the day that Karina went out for a jog. Although Lewis told investigators what happened, he could not explain why he did what he did.
Forensic evidence has come a long way and now can be the make or break evidence in any criminal case. Our Westchester criminal defense attorneys know that DNA can both establish someone’s innocence by excluding them as a suspect or they can provide a missing link establishing a person’s guilty. Has Lewis refused the DNA test, it is likely that he never would have been charged with murder. Our New York City lawyers recommend that if you committed a crime and are contacted by the police, hire a lawyer immediately. While Russo suspected Lewis of the crime, the minimal circumstantial evidence that he had was probably not enough to get a search warrant for the DNA and had Lewis hired a criminal defense lawyer, the detective would have been told that Lewis was exercising his constitutional rights not to give evidence. On the other hand if someone other than Lewis were charged or suspected, the DNA evidence would likely have exonerated them of the crime.
Our Westchester criminal defense lawyers are based in White Plains and regularly practice in all of the Westchester Courts including White Plains, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Port Chester, Rye , Scarsdale, Mount Pleasant, Mount Kisco, Yorktown and Greenburgh.