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Man gets life in prison in death of runner found in NYC park

A man convicted of murder in the 2016 death of a New York City runner was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.

Chanel Lewis was convicted earlier this month of killing Karina Vetrano in a case that stirred urban fears, helped change the state's DNA-investigation rules and raised questions about race and police procedures.

"While there is no denying that Karina Vetrano's death is tragic and that her family and friends suffered a great loss, every aspect of this case - from the police investigation to jury deliberations - was propelled by a desire to convict at all costs," the Legal Aid Society, which represents Lewis, said in a statement. "This was done without any concern for Mr. Lewis's constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. We will appeal this case to the Appellate Division to secure Mr. Lewis the justice that he deserves."

On Monday, the judge denied a defense motion to set aside the guilty verdict after hearing arguments about alleged juror misconduct.

Phil Vetrano found his 30-year-old daughter's body, sexually abused and strangled, in a park where they often went for runs together.

The attack redoubled the wariness of women who run alone, and it baffled investigators for a time. Lewis was arrested six months later.

Authorities said his DNA was found on Vetrano's neck and cellphone and in a mixture of DNA under her fingernails. His own phone contained downloaded photos of the crime scene and searches for information about the case, police said.

And Lewis recorded a confession, saying he was upset at someone else — a neighbor of his who played loud music — and "lost it" when he saw Vetrano.

"One thing led to another," he said in the confession. "Hitting her and stuff like that."

Lewis said he strangled Vetrano but didn't sexually abuse her.

Lewis' defense said that the DNA evidence hadn't been gathered properly and that the confession was coerced and didn't match Vetrano's injuries or some other facts.

Before Lewis' arrest, the investigation prompted police prosecutors to seek state permission to use a technique known as familial DNA searching — looking for people similar enough to be closely related to whoever left DNA at the crime scene, in hopes they will lead to a suspect.

The state Commission on Forensic Science ultimately agreed in June 2017 to allow familial DNA searching in murder, rape and some other cases. The decision came over the objections of civil libertarians who said the practice entangles law-abiding people in investigations because of their family ties.

By the time the commission gave its approval, Lewis had already been arrested.