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High-ranking NYPD cop who cracked the Queens jogger case recalls his dramatic first encounter with the man who brutally 'raped and strangled' Karina Vetrano

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 11/9/2018 Jessa Schroeder and Snejana Farberov For Dailymail.com

NYPD lieutenant John Russo testified in court Thursday and recalled details from his initial encounter with the man accused of brutally raping and strangling Queens jogger Karina Vetrano two years ago.

Russo, 42, shared details in Queens Supreme Court about the May 30, 2016 encounter in which he spotted Chanel Lewis, 22, lurking around Howard Beach.

The high-ranking officer, who was off-duty at the time, said in the statement: 'To see a person dressed with long sleeves and hood up in warm weather seemed out place.

'After several minutes of watching, I believed he was about to commit or had previously committed a burglary... so I called 911 and reported a suspicious a male.' 

Lewis vanished from Russo's sight before authorities arrived to the neighborhood. Russo had been watching his unusual behavior for nearly an hour, he said.

The following day, Russo tracked Lewis down in the same area and called detectives to question him. Lewis was ultimately released.

a man in a suit standing in front of a store: NYPD lieutenant John Russo testified Thursday in court where he recalled details from his initial encounter with a man accused in the brutal rape and murder of Queens jogger Karina Vetrano

NYPD lieutenant John Russo testified Thursday in court where he recalled details from his initial encounter with a man accused in the brutal rape and murder of Queens jogger Karina Vetrano
© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited

His dramatic arrest came eight months later during investigation in the killing of Karina Vetrano, who was murdered in the same area Russell had his encounter with Lewis.

Russo ordered detectives to track him down, and they ultimately found DNA from his home that matched the DNA at the crime scene.

Lewis is charged with sexually assaulting and strangling Vetrano as she ran on a secluded park trail in Howard Beach, Queens in August 2016. 

The prosecutor told the court in his opening statement Monday that the 30-year-old runner was accosted and grabbed as she jogged along Spring Creek Park on August 2, 2016.

Vetrano was punched in the face, thrown to the ground, violently raped and then strangled in a marsh, about a block away from her house, where her father, Philip Vetrano, would later find her body. 

Authorities previously said that the victim desperately fought for her life until the very end. 

Despite making a videotaped confession, in which he allegedly admitted to killing Vetrano, saying he was mad at his neighbor when he spotted her at random and snapped, Lewis has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and aggravated sex abuse. 

In February, a judge decided to let DNA evidence and a videotaped confession be used at trial.

Lewis' attorneys previously questioned the validity of his DNA sample from a consensual cheek swab, which was compared to DNA evidence recovered from under the victim's fingernails, and the manner in which his confession was gained. 

On Day 1 of Lewis's trial, the defendant, dressed in a grey suit, glanced back at Vetrano's mother and sister, who was rocking back and forth in her seat. 

Cathie Vetrano wept as the prosecutor described the moment her husband, Phil, found their daughter lying face down in the dirt. 

'He fell to his knees, wept and did what any parent would do. He cradled her and lifted her back to his chest,' Leventhal said, according to reporting by the Queens Daily Eagle 

Lewis’s mother, Veta, was also in court today. She arrived in the company of State Assemblyman Charles Barron and the Rev Kevin McCall.

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