Philip Vetrano

Sean Adams/WCBS 880

Karina Vetrano's Father: 'A Weight Has Been Lifted'

April 02, 2019 - 11:02 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The morning after a jury convicted a Brooklyn man in the murder of Karina Vetrano, her father sat on the very spot where he found her body among the reeds in a Queens park nearly three years ago.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted," Philip Vetrano told WCBS 880's Sean Adams, "I woke up with a different feeling. There was no more of that, 'Now we gotta put him away, now we gotta put him away.' Now it's done. I don't know how we proceed from here because we haven't been here in three years so we don't know what the rest of our life is going to be like. But it's a good feeling to know that now we could move forward."

After five hours of deliberations, a Queens jury on Monday found Chanel Lewis guilty of strangling and sexually abusing the 30-year-old speech pathologist as she ran on a trail at Spring Creek Park near her family's Howard Beach home in August 2016. Her father found her body. 

Philip Vetrano has reclaimed the spot where he made that horrific discovery. He built a circular shrine in memory of his daughter. A stone bears her name and cobblestones form a butterfly.

He said it's now a peaceful place where he listens to the birds and talks with Karina. 

"If you listen and you look around, you hear the birds. There's birds that I feed here, they recognize me, they come. I feed the birds, there's a couple of cats that I feed here. And it actually gives me peace here. It's the only place I could go to get peace. And it might be strange because right where I'm sitting is where I found her, but I think because it's the only place where I have any control. I come here every day," he said.

Karina Vetrano memorial
Sean Adams/WCBS 880

In memory of their daughter, the family funds a scholarship to Archbishop Molloy High School, donates to St. Jude's Children's Hospital and they plan to publish a book of Karina's writings. 

"Obviously she was beautiful on the outside, but she was beautiful on the inside and she was a special person. And we really didn't even realize that until afterwards. She's special, she's smart, she's beautiful and she was destined for greater things," Vetrano said.

The first trial for Lewis, 22, of Brooklyn, ended with a hung jury

He had no reaction as the guilty verdict was read at his retrial.

Authorities said Lewis confessed to the crime and his DNA turned up on Vetrano's neck, cell phone and under her fingernails. His cell phone placed him in the area and police said he had downloaded images of the crime scene.

In the eleventh hour, an anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a police officer alleged police suspected two white men in the murder but only took DNA samples from over 360 black men in the area. Prosecutors said the letter contained no verifiable information. The NYPD said the letter was "riddled with falsehoods and inaccuracies."

The judge denied a request from the defense asking for a hearing on the letter and also denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial.

Lewis' lawyers vow an appeal saying, "Our client did not receive a fair trial."  They claim the confession was coerced and the DNA evidence tainted.

Lewis is set to be sentenced on April 17.