The man accused of fatally beating New York City jogger Karina Vetrano last August allegedly told police he chose her at random and attacked her “to let emotions out,” PEOPLE confirms.
During his interrogation, portions of which were read aloud at his arraignment in court on Tuesday, Chanel Lewis, 20, allegedly told police that Vetrano, 30, did nothing to provoke him, a court official tells PEOPLE.
“I was just mad at the time,” Lewis allegedly said.
“I beat her to let my emotions out,” he allegedly told investigators. “I never really meant to hurt her, it just happened.”
Lewis was arraigned following his indictment for murder and sexual abuse.
According to a court official, prosecutors said Tuesday that Lewis had allegedly asked investigators to relay an apology to his mother the day after his arrest.
“Tell my mom that I’m sorry,” Lewis allegedly told authorities, court officials confirm to PEOPLE. He also allegedly asked for an audience with Vetrano’s family, saying at one point, “I’m sorry for what I did.”
When investigators asked him to provide details about the attack, Lewis allegedly told them he fought with Vetrano for about five minutes.
According to court officials, Lewis told police Vetrano scratched his face and he responded by punching her five times in the face. The force from the blows broke her teeth and knocked her unconscious.
Lewis allegedly told detectives he strangled her and left her face down in a puddle to drown.
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Lewis has entered a not guilty plea to the charges, and is due to return to court July 13.
DNA From Vetrano’s Fingernails
Vetrano’s battered body was discovered face-down in the park within hours of her killing. She was found near a running path she jogged daily, and she was last seen by her family heading out to run.
Lewis was arrested two months ago and N.Y.C. police Lt. John Russo played an instrumental role in his capture.
Russo, an observant cop with a sharp memory, lives in the same Queens neighborhood as Vetrano and her parents, the source explains.
Russo allegedly spotted Lewis looking into cars and over fences in the neighborhood and called 911. Another caller also called 911 about Lewis, identifying him by name. Records were scanned and Lewis was sought for questioning and a DNA sample.
Vetrano’s mother and Lewis’ mother were both in the courtroom for Tuesday’s hearing, court officials tell PEOPLE.
Lewis could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the 13 counts of murder and sexual abuse he faces.
Police say the arrest may never have happened had Vetrano not fought her alleged attacker in her final moments.
Several tiny shreds of the killer’s skin were recovered from beneath her fingernails, and police say it was this DNA evidence that eventually led to Lewis’ apprehension.
“Karina helped us identify this person,” Boyce told reporters at a press conference held soon after Lewis’ arrest. “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. This is a very good day for justice in New York City.”
A statement issued by the Legal Aid Society, which is representing Lewis, says now that he has entered a plea, “the Queens District Attorney’s Office must now begin to disclose and turn over all evidence related to the prosecution of this case. Our defense team looks forward to closely reviewing all case documents during this process.”