Authorities said Martinez was responsible for the 1999 slaying of Minerliz Soriano, a 13-year-old girl whose body was discovered in a Bronx dumpster days after she went missing.
Martinez, a resident of New Rochelle in Westchester County, was taken into custody Monday and was arraigned on Tuesday. The 49-year-old was charged with second-degree murder, a class-A felony, according to jail records.
Police: DNA Evidence Implicates Joseph Martinez
According to archival reports, 13-year-old Minerliz Soriano went missing in February 1999. Three days later, a homeless man discovered her body in the dumpster behind a Bronx video store. She had been bound and stuffed in a garbage bag, contemporaneous sources noted.
Medical examiners determined the seventh grader was strangled and her death was ruled a homicide, but no arrests were made in connection with her murder, and no leads were forthcoming. Soriano’s tragic death faded into memory for all but her loved ones.
But after 22 years, a police source told the New York Post, investigators were able to tie genetic material from the crime scene to Joseph Martinez, who at that time was living in the same building as Soriano and her family.
“DNA became integral and led to the identification of a witness,” the source said. “Now he faces two counts of murder.”
Police did not say where the DNA evidence was found, or how it was eventually connected to Martinez, who no longer lives in the area and does not appear to have any prior convictions. More information is expected to come at a press conference scheduled for Tuesday.
Family of Minerliz Soriano Reacts to Arrest
Loved ones of the 13-year-old victim told reporters Monday that they had long since given up hope that the killer would be identified.
“I feel happy because justice is working, but I feel sad at the same time because it takes too long,” said Luis Soriano, Minerliz’s father.
“Everywhere we go, we see a little kid, I remember her,” the grieving dad told another outlet. “When somebody smiles like she did, it makes me remember her. She always was in our heart and in our mind. I hope that justice will do its work. This time, do it on time, and right.”
“I’d like to say to him, ‘Why?’” said Amelia Soriano, Minerliz’s aunt, of Joseph Martinez. “He threw her in the garbage, in the dumpster like she was garbage. She wasn’t garbage. She was a human being.”
“I can’t explain because I can say I’d be happy because they got him, but the pain is in here. The pain no goes,” she added. “We will never forget what happened, because she’s still in our heart.”
Today, Minerliz Soriano would be 35 years old. Her family said they don’t remember Martinez from the apartment building, and that they could not recall having contact with him before or after the 13-year-old’s death.
‘Jupiter Joe’ Faces Decades in Prison
Authorities told ABC-7 Joseph Martinez had something of a public profile before his arrest Monday.
In videos posted to several different accounts on YouTube, the 49-year-old calls himself “Jupiter Joe” and educates viewers about astronomy and related topics. In at least one video, Martinez is seen interacting with young children.
If convicted of second-degree murder, “Jupiter Joe” could face a prison sentence between 15 and 40 years. According to municipal jail records, Martinez’s bail was remanded, meaning he’ll stay in police custody until he is tried. His next scheduled court date is March 7.