QUEENS — Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano helped investigators catch her killer by fighting fiercely against him during her final moments of life, police said.
Her struggle left DNA samples wedged underneath her fingernails — samples that matched DNA taken from the murder suspect, police said.
Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce told reporters Sunday that they had charged Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York, with Vetrano's murder, exactly six months after Vetrano was strangled and assaulted while jogging in the Gateway National Recreation Area.
Ultimately it was the DNA found underneath Vetrano's nails, from when she fought against her attacker while she was dragged off the running path and into the tall weeds Aug. 2, that helped break the case, Boyce said. There was also DNA on her back and cell phone.
"Karina helped us identify this person," he said during a press conference at the 106th Precinct stationhouse.
"This is a very good day for justice in New York City."
Chanel Lewis, suspect in the murder of Karina Vetrano, leaves the 107th Precinct: pic.twitter.com/72kwaucusw— katie honan (@katie_honan) February 5, 2017
Lewis has no prior arrests but received three summonses near the East New York entrance to the park dating back to 2013, Boyce said.
In May, a neighbor called 911 about Lewis, citing him as a "suspicious person" in Howard Beach, according to police.
Officers from the 106th Precinct helped eventually identify him, and he gave a DNA sample while with police Thursday, Boyce said. Police would not elaborate about what police work transpired between May and Thursday that led them to Lewis.
Within two days, he was matched to the crime scene and was arrested at around 6 p.m. Saturday at the East New York home he shares with his mom, police said.
Police sources said in his interview with investigators, Lewis told them he saw Vetrano running toward him on the path in the park and he grabbed her.
She fought back and he dragged her into the weeds, where he beat her to death, sources said.
He didn't give a motive, sources told DNAinfo.
"We don't believe he knew her at all," Boyce told reporters, adding Lewis made "incriminating" statements in interviews with police.
Suspect Chanel Lewis is escorted out of the 107th Precinct before his arraignment in Queens Criminal Court on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. (DNAinfo/Katie Honan)
Lewis is a "humble" young man who was on the honor roll at school, his father, a former Brooklyn principal, told reporters Sunday.
“It’s extremely surprising,” his dad, Richard Lewis, told the New York Post.
He was escorted out of the 107th Precinct on Sunday afternoon as more than two dozen people heckled him from across the street.
He was arraigned later that evening in Queens Criminal Court and is due back in court Feb. 21, according to the Queens District Attorney's office.