Dad of slain jogger Karina Vetrano says he was asked to give DNA sample at daughter's funeral

Karina Vetrano, 30, was fatally strangled while jogging on Aug. 2, 2016.

March 20, 2019, 2:05 PM

The father of Karina Vetrano, a 30-year-old woman who was strangled to death on a jog in Queens, New York, said he was asked to provide a DNA sample at his daughter's funeral.

Phil Vetrano said he went to a back room with two detectives. "I told them, 'If you need my right arm, I'll give you that,'" he testified Wednesday.

The father's testimony comes on the first week of the retrial of Chanel Lewis, his daughter's accused killer. Lewis' first trial ended in a hung jury after 13 hours of deliberations and was declared a mistrial in Nov. 2018. His attorneys insist he did not commit the crime.

Karina Vetrano is seen here in this undated file photo.

Karina Vetrano was sexually assaulted and strangled to death on Aug. 2, 2016, while jogging alone in Spring Creek Park, that's adjacent to her Howard Beach home. The father and daughter often ran together, but Phil Vetrano, a retired firefighter, previously testified that he sat out that summer day due to a back injury.

On the stand Wednesday Phil Vetrano confirmed a frantic voicemail message he left for his daughter while he searched desperately for her along the trail.

The 30-year-old was found severely beaten, lying face-down in 8-foot weeds, with her front tooth knocked out, her pants pulled down and her socks wet, police said.

Phil Vetrano told the court he was asked to identify a selfie Karina had taken earlier in the year, showing her "beautiful teeth."

"She took great pride in her teeth," he said.

Phillip and Catherine Vetrano, parents of Karina Vetrano, arrive to court in New York, March 20, 2019. Chanel Lewis is accused of killing their daughter.
Seth Wenig/AP

Phil Vetrano was asked to look at a crime scene photo of his daughter’s face, and the prosecutor asked him how he would describe the image.

After a long pause, he said, "It looks like Karina’s mouth, all beat to hell...she had perfect teeth and those are not."

During cross-examination, Phil Vetrano testified that when his daughter was found he picked up her body, but was pulled away almost immediately. He said he helped with the search "because I knew the terrain."

Six months after Karina Vetrano's death, Lewis, then 20, was arrested.

Chanel Lewis appears in court during his retrial in New York, March 20, 2019. Lewis is accused of killing a woman who was attacked while running near her family's New York City home.
Curtis Means/The Daily Mail via AP

Lewis' DNA matched a sample from the crime scene, police said, and he allegedly confessed to authorities.

But Lewis' attorneys with the Legal Aid Society believe their client was coerced into the confession.

"Chanel did not murder Karina. He did not sexually assault her either," defense attorney Jen Cheung said in opening statements Monday, according to ABC New York station WABC-TV. "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."

"This awful crime was not committed by that young man," Cheung said.