‘We’re a broken family’ Murdered jogger’s parents bare continuing grief as they battle for new DNA test

Posted at 10:22 PM, Dec 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-10 09:27:39-05

HOWARD BEACH, Queens — Cathie Vetrano politely answered the door when PIX11 rang the bell Friday morning at her Howard Beach home.

One hundred fifty miles away in Albany, a state commission was debating the merits of a special DNA test that could help her daughter’s unsolved murder case.

The battered body of 30-year-old Karina Vetrano, an avid runner and a graduate of the Master’s program at St. John’s University, was found by her father on Aug. 2 just blocks from her parents’ house.

“We’re a broken, broken family,” Cathie Vetrano told PIX11 News, sitting with her husband, Phillip, in the living room, “because of this piece of filth that must be found.”

Police developed a DNA profile on the unknown, male killer — not long after they retrieved biological evidence from Karina’s cell phone, from her neck, and from under her fingernails.

The samples found no match on a national or state DNA database, so the NYPD’s Police Commissioner and Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown, want to take the testing to the next level.

Brown wrote to the New York State Commission on Forensic Science Dec. 7, asking that a special type of DNA test called “familial searching” be used in the Vetrano case.

The process would require DNA testing be performed on the “Y” chromosome of the crime scene samples—which can produce common, male profiles on men that are relatives—a father, uncle, brother, or son.

This could lead to the unknown murderer.

“The only people you’re dragging into this are criminals,” Phillip Vetrano told PIX11, “criminals that are in the database.”

The process is already used in nine U.S. states, and it’s helped to catch a serial killer in California — through his son’s DNA — and rapists in Wisconsin and Virginia.

But Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, has concerns about familial searching.

“We can’t be in the business of suspending the right to privacy,” Lieberman said. “We have a very strong interest in solving crimes, and we have a very strong interest in protecting our own control of our body fluids and private information.”

Cathie Vetrano responded to those who resist the test.

“Anyone who is against this, I just dare them to be in this position,” Vetrano said.

When told of Cathie Vetrano’s words, Donna Lieberman said, “I empathize with the family’s grief.” Earlier, she said, “This is a difficult case, for sure, because it’s such a horrific crime. But I think we have to stand by all of our principles.”

The Vetrano family has started a petition on calling for familial searching in Karina’s murder case. Karina’s father is also offering a $200,000 reward for information leading to the killer’s identity, money he secured from private donations.

“There is $200,000 that is private money, that I’m in control of, that I can give,” Phillip Vetrano said.

The parents are bracing for a sad, Christmas season and won’t be decorating their home.

Cathie Vetrano cried in her kitchen and said, “My grieving is very private.”

She showed PIX11 a photo of Karina holding her nephew, Jude, when he was a newborn.

Jude is now eight months old.

And PIX11 drove by the NYPD Mobile Command Center that still sits near the crime scene by Spring Creek Park, on 161st Avenue and 90th Street in Howard Beach.

The summer heat has given way to winter weather and the trees are now bare.

But the tall reeds that Karina Vetrano ran alongside back in August are still high—and heighten the eerie feeling of a place that still has not yielded her rapist and killer.

Clarification: Mother Cathie Vetrano’s name was initially spelled incorrectly, due to an error on a GoFundMe page. It has since been fixed.

Clarification: Mother Cathie Vetrano’s name was initially spelled incorrectly, due to an error on a GoFundMe page. It has since been fixed.