A Brooklyn man was charged Sunday with second-degree murder in the strangling of Karina Vetrano, whose death while jogging in Queens shocked the community and set off a six-month search for a suspect.
Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York, was arraigned later Sunday and ordered held. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years to life in prison.
"This defendant admitted to attacking the victim, admitted to beating her, to strangling her and dragging her body in the weeds," Queens assistant district attorney Michael Curtis said.
Forensic evidence found during a follow-up investigation also implicated Lewis, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said.
Lewis has two attorneys through Legal Aid. His father described him as a "humble kid" who was a good student and wanted to go into social work.
Outside court on Sunday, Vetrano's mother Cathie shouted, "He's a demon! He's a demon, he can burn in hell.
Investigators developed a profile of Lewis within the past 10 days that revealed a host of summonses, but no previous criminal history, officials said.
Authorities believe Lewis snatched Vetrano near an area connecting the remote Howard Beach route she jogged to an East New York bicycle path that runs along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn.
The discovery led authorities to Lewis' home, where they placed him under arrest. Police said they don't believe he and Vetrano knew each other prior to the crime.
Vetrano, a 30-year-old avid runner, was beaten, strangled and sexually assaulted on Aug. 2 in Howard Beach. Her father Phil usually ran with her, but stayed home with an injury the day she was killed. Her father found her body later that day, about 15 feet from the running trail.
Detectives found Lewis with the help of forensic evidence after sifting through more than 250 leads from the public and over 1,700 investigative reports. Police sources say his DNA matches the DNA profile retrieved from Vetrano's body.
"You gotta remember Karina helped us identify this person," Boyce said. "She had the DNA under her nails. She had touch DNA on her back and there was more DNA on her cellphone. That's how we were able to bring this profile up. And that's how we made the link."
Lewis allegedly volunteered a DNA sample and the results came back Saturday, sources say. Vetrano's parents had asked the state for additional DNA testing on Thursday. Her family held a rally that day to mark six months since her death.
A video released in September shows Vetrano jogging near her Howard Beach home the day she disappeared. Her body was later found in a marshy area just off the trail at Gateway National Recreation Area.
A GoFundMe page set up after Vetrano's death has raised nearly $290,000 toward the investigative effort.
Phil Vetrano said he was at a loss for words, but thanked police for their investigative efforts in piecing together the clues of his daughter's death.
"We hoped to get to this point, one day," he said. "I am not going to say it's good, but we can move forward now. We are in a place we were never at, we know who did this."