By David Brand
The mother of the Karina Vetrano, the 30-year-old woman killed while jogging near her Howard Beach home, has been a mainstay at court proceedings since a suspect was first identified in February 2017.
Cathie Vetrano was often seen clutching a crucifix during the November murder trial that ended with a split jury. She sat through jury selection for the retrial last week and watched opening statements on Monday.
On Tuesday, she took the stand for the first time.
“I was screaming in the street,” she said, according to ABC 7.
Prior to opening statements on Monday, Justice Michael Aloise granted prosecutor Brad Leventhal’s motion to allow Cathie Vetrano to sit in on opening statements even though she was scheduled to testify.
Karina’s father Phil Vetrano did not attend jury selection or opening statements and also testified on Tuesday. He described finding Karina’s body during a large-scale manhunt that featured dozens of cops and other first responders in a dark Spring Creek Park on Aug 2, 2016. Phil Vetrano was able to organize the search party after he called a friend, a high-ranking NYPD office, and said Karina had not returned for her short jog.
Six months later, detectives identified East New York resident Chanel Lewis, then 20, as a suspect. In January 2017, Lt. John Russo, another high-ranking Howard Beach cop, remembered that he saw Lewis walking in the neighborhood in May 2016, two months before the murder. He called 911 to report a “suspicious male” in a hoodie and responding officers stop and frisked Lewis that day in May
The cops did not arrest Lewis for walking around the neighborhood, but they did obtain his name and address. They dug that information up based on Russo’s hunch and visited Lewis to obtain a voluntary DNA sample. On Feb. 3, they returned to Lewis’ home and took him into custody.
Lewis, now 22, is charged with second-degree murder, first-degree murder and aggravated sexual abuse — on which the first-degree murder charge is predicated — for allegedly attacking Vetrano during a random encounter on a secluded trail in Spring Creek Park.
He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted on the top charge of first-degree murder
The retrial will likely last three to four weeks, Aloise said Monday.