Karina Vetrano murder: Mother testifies in Chanel Lewis' retrial

HOWARD BEACH, Queens (WABC) -- Karina Vetrano's mother testified Tuesday in the retrial of the man charged in her daughter's murder.

Cathie Vetrano, who now has a tattoo of her daughter's face on her forearm and wore a butterfly pin because of Karina's fondness for butterflies, did not take the stand in Chanel Lewis' first trial but was called as a witness over the objections of the defense.

Lewis, 22, is accused of sexually abusing and strangling 30-year-old Karina Vetrano as she jogged near her home in Howard Beach, Queens, in 2016.

Cathie Vetrano testified that the last time she saw her daughter alive was in her kitchen before Karina went running. The next time she saw her was "in a funeral parlor, in a coffin."

She also described the increasingly desperate hours when Karina was missing and the moment that she learned from her husband that their daughter was dead.

"I was screaming in the street," she told the jury. "We grabbed each other, and we were just crying."

She testified for 40 minutes and never quite broke down, staying steady and calm, if a bit nervous.

Karina's father Phil Vetrano then took the stand. He also testified in the first trial, which ended in November with a hung jury.

Phil Vetrano testified about finding and cradling his daughter's cold, stiff body.

"I let out a sound I never made before or since," he said. "A wail, a cry or screaming. 'My baby!' I said, 'I have to take her home. I have to take her home.'"

Court adjourned just before 5 p.m., with Phil Vetrano's testimony expected to continue Wednesday.

During opening arguments Monday, assistant Queens DA Brad Leventhal painted a vivid and horrifying portrait of the crime, describing how Vetrano left her home and was attacked and murdered in Spring Creek Park.

"A young woman full of life, barely 30 years old, and her life was stolen from her by the man who sits in this courtroom at that table over here," he said. "He squeezed and he squeezed and he squeezed. He choked her until she couldn't resist anymore. He choked her until she couldn't struggle anymore. He choked her until she couldn't breathe anymore. He choked her until she died, alone, scared."

It its opening statement, the defense sought to rekindle the same doubts that led to the first mistrial.

"This awful crime was not committed by that young man," defense attorney Jen Cheung said. "Chanel did not murder Karina. He did not sexually assault her either. Ladies and gentlemen, you won't hear evidence linking Chanel to a sexual assault. You won't see Chanel's blood or body fluid, shoe prints or hair at the crime scene. You won't see his fingerprints at the crime scene either."

Despite DNA evidence and an on-camera confession, jurors in the first trial found themselves deadlocked with real concerns about how police conducted their investigation.

Five of 12 jurors felt that prosecutors didn't make the case after the defense argued that the videotaped confession was coerced and raised questions about how police collected DNA evidence.

"The very evidence that the government thinks proves their case actually leaves a host of reasonable doubts," Cheung said.

Prosecutors claim DNA from underneath Vetrano's fingernails, on her neck, and on her cell phone matched that of Lewis.

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