On August 2, 2016, 30-year-old Karina Vetrano went for a jog in the park in a neighborhood of Queens, New York City. She was attacked, sexually assaulted, and murdered.
The case garnered national media attention, in part because it remained unsolved for 6 months. In February of 2017, a suspect, Chanel Lewis, was arrested and charged after DNA evidence linked him to the crime. His trial went to a mistrial in late 2018, but a retrial came back with a guilty verdict on April 1, 2019.
BACKGROUND AND MURDER
Karina was born on July 12, 1986 to Phillip and Cathie Vetrano. Her father had been a first responder after the September 11 attacks. She had a brother and a sister. She attended high school in Queens, and attended St. John's University where she graduated with a master's in speech pathology.
She was an aspiring writer and appeared in a short film inspired by her writings in 2013. She lived in Queens, in the same neighborhood as her parents, and worked in Manhattan as a speech therapist for children with autism.
On August 2, 2016, in the late afternoon, Karina went for a run less than a block away from her home. Her father, her typical running partner, was concerned for her to run by herself, but he was experiencing back pain so she went alone. Just after 5 PM, she was seen alive for the last time. (Isn't it shitty that her dad had to express concern that she, a 30-year-old woman, was going to go run in the park in broad daylight alone? And that he was right to be worried?)
Her parents grew concerned when she didn't come back and they couldn't reached her. Her father contacted an NYPD police chief, who launched a search. Her father participated, and horrifically, found his daughter's dead body face down at about 11 PM. Her shorts were pulled down along with her underwear and sports bra. There was evidence that she had been sexually assaulted, and her cause of death was ruled as a strangulation homicide.
The detectives believed that she had been hit in the back of the head with a rock. She put up a "ferocious fight". She had bit him so hard her teeth cracked, and her hands still had grass in them that she had clutched trying to stay on the trail as he dragged her away. The attacker's DNA was on her fingernails, back and phone. A $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to her killer's arrest.
DNA initially failed to produce any leads. Over 600 DNA samples were examined, and police followed over 250 leads in the hunt for her killer.
On August 7, a few days after Karina was killed, 27-year-old Vanessa Marcotte was found dead, also killed during a run on a rural road. The similarities between the cases prompted the media to link the 2, but DNA evidence proved the murders were done by 2 different people. However, it sparked a conversation about women's safety when exercising alone.
A sketch was released on August 31 of a person of interest who had been spotted coming out of the weeds near where Karina was killed. A profile from the NYPD and FBI was released in December of the suspect.
THE SUSPECT AND TRIAL
On February 4, 2017, just over 6 months after her death, the police announced they had a suspect in Karina's case: One Chanel R. Lewis, a 20-year-old Brooklyn resident. He was unemployed, living with his mom, 3 sisters, and their children in a housing project near the park. Though he had no criminal record, he had a documented hatred of women, telling a teacher's aide once he wanted to stab all of the girls at his school. He was described as a mentally unstable loner who had been in protective custody a few times.
Though he had no arrest record, he had run-ins with the police, 2 of them for violating the rules of Spring Creek Park, the park Karina was on her run in. (The other was for public urination.) He had also been suspected of other suspicious behavior, like lurking around in backyards with a crowbar.
Investigators believe that, following an argument with his family, he walked to the park and attacked Karina. It is still not known if he had seen her before, or just attacked at random.
His mother said when he came home that night, his clothes were torn and he looked disheveled, but he said he had been mugged by a group of men. The next day, his father took him to a local ER for scratches and cuts on his upper body. His parents denied his involvement in the homicide.
His first trial began on November 5, 2018. He plead not guilty to the murder and sexual abuse charges, facing 25 years to life in prison. During this trial, a taped confession of Lewis played, Karina's father testified to finding his daughter's dead body, a forensic biologist testified that the DNA had a 1 in 6 trillion chance of belonging to someone else, and the ME who performed the autopsy testified to her injuries. However, some of the jurors believed the DNA was contaminated, and the judge declared a mistrial after it resulted in a hung jury.
A retrial was scheduled for January 22, 2019, which got pushed back to March. Luckily, Lewis was found guilty of 2 counts of second degree murder, 1 count of first degree murder, and 1 count of sexual abuse on April 1, 2019. On April 23, 2019, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole.
This case does absolutely open up conversation about the general dangers of being a woman. There are so many things that are simply ingrained in our heads, things we are taught from an age too young to know that there are people out there who want to kill you for fun. We are told not to go places alone, especially at night. We are told to watch our drinks constantly and to never leave them unattended. We have flashlights to check around our cars if we have to walk out to it in the dark. Most girl friends I know have an alarm-sounding device or pepper spray on their keys. We're told to give guys a fake number and flirt back to avoid their anger. Not to wear clothes that are too revealing. Not to drink too much so you can stay capacitated so no one will assault you. We walk with our keys between our fingers because it is dangerous to be a woman.
But it seemed like Karina did everything right. She wasn't running in the woods or in a secluded area, but a public park. She wasn't running alone in the dark, it was barely 5pm in August, still completely light out. She was sober and safe and told her parents when she was leaving and when she'd be back. And it still didn't matter. She was hit over the head with a rock, dragged off of the trail, assaulted and murdered. She fought like hell. Chanel isn't the biggest guy (he looks quite tall but not too muscular) but Karina was 4'11". And she fought like HELL. And thank God she did, because the DNA she was able to get solved her case. But wouldn't it be nice to be able to go on a run and not have to worry about getting murdered?
It is dangerous to be a woman. Within days of each other, 2 strong, adult women were taken while exercising in the middle of the day and murdered. We know the precautions and what we are supposed to do to stay safe. And yet, in a public park in broad daylight, you can still get snatched and killed. Violence against women is a horrific epidemic, and unfortunately, women end up bearing the burden of stopping it. Because we can't just tell killers not to kill. So we have to be told what hours are safe for us to be alone, what we can wear, what we can drink. We can't ask men to stop being victimizers, so we have to stop making ourselves victims.
Karina Vetrano is just one of so many examples of this type of violence. She was a wonderful person. A loving daughter. A creative soul. A person who had dedicated her life to helping others. And that life was snatched for no reason because she went on a jog.
I've ended a few other articles like this before, but I shall do it again: Rot in jail, Chanel Lewis. Rest in peace, Karina Vetrano.