By David Brand
The courtroom atmosphere was tense on the fourth day of the Karina Vetrano murder trial as prosecutors played two video of Chanel Lewis admitting to the crime the morning after his arrest on Feb. 4, 2017. That first confession came more than 11 hours after detectives picked Lewis up from his home in East New York and held him in the 107th Precinct in Flushing. The second confession, which Lewis made to two assistant district attorneys, took place four hours after the first.
As detectives questioned Lewis, he struggled to answer without prompting. Lewis’ voice was muffled and often unintelligible on the recording, his answers were short, but he ultimately confessed to killing Vetrano.
Lewis told detectives “just lost it” during the random encounter.
“I got angry,” Lewis said. “I saw red [and] one thing led to another.”
Lewis, 20, was arrested at roughly 6:30 p.m. — though they did not inform him he was under arrest until roughly 9 p.m. The detectives drove him to the interview room from 6:43 p.m. until 10:54 p.m. Lewis told them he had not nothing to discuss.
“I never meant to do anything,” Lewis told Detective Barry Brown and his partner. Brown testified in the trial Thursday.
The detectives next moved Lewis into the precinct holding cell for seven hours — a chunk of that time that was not recorded.
At 5:54 a.m. the following morning, Feb. 5, the recording resumed after detectives brought Lewis back into interview room.
“I was beating her and was mad at her,” Lewis said. “There was a puddle of water.”
“What happened to the puddle of water?” detectives asked.
“She fell into it and she drowned,” Lewis said.
Later, Lewis said he “got scared and I threw her in the bushes. And then I went home.”
Despite confessing to the murder, Lewis remained adamant that he did not sexually assault her.
“I didn’t do any of that,” he said after detectives told him Vetrano was sexually assaulted on the trail.
Detectives asked Vetrano how far away from Vetrano he was when he first saw her.
“Two feet or something like that,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ confession included several inaccuracies and vagaries about the details of the murder. Vetrano was dressed in a black sports bra, but when detectives asked what Vetrano was wearing at the time of the murder, Lewis said, “A yellow tank top maybe.”
He also described Vetrano as “tall.” She was little more than 5 feet tall.
During his first four hours in the interview room, Lewis repeatedly asked detectives to call his family. The detectives told him he would get the opportunity when they finished completing paperwork. Brown testified that Lewis did not sleep between his arrest and the confession.
At roughly 9 p.m, Lewis told officers he wanted to use his “right to leave.”
“You have no right to leave,” Brown responded. “You’re under arrest for murder.”
An hour later, Brown told Lewis he could call his family “in 15 minutes.”
“You’re under arrest for murder. Do you know what murder is?” Brown said. “You’re not going home.”
Brown told Lewis he could speak to his family in “15 minutes.”
Lewis sat back down at the table and said something unintelligible to himself. At that point, Leventhal stopped the tape and asked Brown what Lewis had said.
“In 15 minutes it’s all coming out,” Brown responded. The defense team investigator told reporters that they dispute that interpretation of what Lewis said.
During the interview room confession hours later, detectives asked Lewis if Vetrano yelled after he attacked her.
“No, her teeth broke,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he was angry with a new neighbor, who was playing music and hosting loud guests, by his East New York home.
“I don’t really like all that stuff. It’s quiet,” Lewis said. “He (the neighbor) hangs out with friends and I don’t like it.”
Something else happened, Brown said during the confession, alluding to the alleged rape.
“Her pants came off when I pulled her into the bushes,” he said. “I didn’t want to touch her or nothing like that.”
Detectives also asked if Lewis took anything of Vetrano’s.
“I didn’t take anything of hers,” he said. “I’m sure. I’m positive.”
They specifically asked Lewis if he touched her phone, which was recovered 78 feet from the body, and her earbuds, which were also recovered several feet from the body.
“It got lost,” he said about the phone. The earbuds were “probably somewhere in the weeds,” he said.
Lewis told detectives the murder wasn’t personal — he had never encountered Vetrano before until he was “two feet” away from her on trail.
“Did seeing her make you mad or were you mad going to the park?” Brown said
“I was mad going to the park,” Lewis said.
“Have you ever done this before?” Brown asked.
“Never,” Lewis responded. “I try to stay out of trouble.”
In the second confession, Lewis told Assistant DAs Peter McCormack and Michael Curtis that he “got angry and started hitting her in the face and stuff like that.”
Again Lewis denied sexually assaulting Vetrano.
“Did you touch her anyway in the vagina or anus at all?
“No,” Lewis said.
At the conclusion of the second interrogation, which lasted just under 30 minutes, Lewis questioned McCormack and fellow Assistant District Attorney Michael Curtis about who they were.
“Anything you want to say to use before we wrap this up?” Curtis asked.
“Where do we go from here?” Lewis said.
“I don’t know,” McCormack said.
“You’re the attorney right?” Lewis said.
“I’m the Assistant DA, yes,” McCormack said.
“The attorney is somewhere else right,” Lewis said.
“Later on,” McCormack said.
“What’s gonna happen from here,” Lewis said.
“We’ll see. We’ll see,” McCormack said.
“Restitution or a program?” Lewis said.
“I can’t say,” McCormack said.
“You’re the attorney, right?” Lewis asked McCormack.
McCormack informed he was an assistant district attorney.
“Where do you we go from here?” Lewis asked. Is there “restitution or a program?”
McCormack said he did not know.
If convicted, Lewis faces up to 25 years to life in prison for the top charge of second-degree murder.