By David Brand
Karina Vetrano’s mother, aunt and sister gasped audibly and huddled in a tight tangle as the prosecution revealed three photos of Karina Vetrano’s dead body on the first day of the murder trial. Chanel Lewis, the man accused of killing Vetrano, looked away.
The sobs prompted Judge Michael Aloise to call a five-minute recess and remove the jury from the courtroom. When the jury left, Aloise asked the gallery to stifle “visceral reactions.”
When the images were introduced for a second time, Vetrano’s mother Cathie Vetrano, Tana and aunt Suzy again clutched each other and covered each other’s faces. Another woman behind them rubbed their backs.
Before the photos were introduced as People’s Exhibit No. 3, Aloise had informed the jury that they might see graphic images, but that none of the photographs were intended to “inflame emotions.” The jurors remained straight-faced as they considered the images.
On the first day of the trial Monday, Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal called NYPD Technical Assistance Response Unit Detective Timothy Gentz and retired FDNY Firefighter Phil Guarnieri, a “close friend” of Karina’s father Phil Vetrano to the witness stand.
Both men participated in the search — Gentz found Karina’s cell phone and Guarnieri accompanied Karina’s father Phil Vetrano — and said they had encountered Karina Vetrano’s body lying face-first amid a patch of tall grass inside Spring Creek Park, a short distance from Vetrano’s home.
Both men were shown the photos of Vetrano, whose running shorts were pulled completely off one leg and down to the thigh on the other. The dark strap of her sports bra was evident across her back.
When Leventhal first introduced the exhibit, each photo was covered with black paper.
Phil Vetrano was not in the courtroom as he is expected to testify as a prosecution witness.