THE BRONX, N.Y. — A New Rochelle man charged on Tuesday in the cold case murder of a 13-year-old girl whose body was found in a Bronx dumpster stayed active in the community for years after her death, according to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark.
Minerliz Soriano went missing after school near her Pelham Parkway home on Feb. 24, 1999, according to Clark and police. Her body was found bound and in a plastic bag inside a dumpster on Bartow Avenue on Feb. 28, 1999, police said.
She was sexually abused and showed signs of neck compression, which caused her death, according to Clark.
On Monday, more than 20 years after Soriano’s death, police announced the arrest of Joseph Martinez.
Clark said Martinez, 49, stayed involved in the Bronx community after Soriano’s death. He called himself “Jupiter Joe” and offered sidewalk astronomy lessons, according to the district attorney.
Martinez was arraigned Tuesday on two counts of second-degree murder, felony and intentional. He was remanded to jail and is due back in court on Jan. 31, 2022.
Clark said a forensic science investigative practice called familial DNA matching was “instrumental” in cracking the cold case and identifying Martinez as a suspect.
Police said DNA evidence was recovered from Soriano’s body, but it did not come up as a direct match in 2000. However, familial DNA searching, which was approved for use in New York in 2017, opened up another avenue in the investigation.
Authorities worked to obtain permission to use familial DNA searching in the case, which ultimately led to a match with Martinez’s father. From there, investigators worked to identify relatives of the father who could be the perpetrator.
“But while the technology was vital, it really was the humanity, the dedication and the compassion of the investigators and their relentless drive to get justice in this case,” Clark said. “This is why we do the work that we do: for the people, for families, like this family. Minerliz was not just a grim stat or a case number. She was a vibrant child who should be with us today enjoying life.”