N.Y. Daughter Helps Crack Case of Dad's Killing After Police Initially Said He Died in Fall

Jennifer Espinal overcame what she saw as police indifference to locate video of her 76-year-old father's attacker, leading to an arrest

Jorge Cornejo and Jennifer Espinal
Jorge Cornejo, at left, and daughter Jennifer Espinal. Photo: ABC7NY

Jennifer Espinal never accepted that her 76-year-old father had suffered fatal injuries in a fall on the street.

But the lieutenant at the precinct station in Queens, New York, was adamant in this belief, she alleged. When she pressed him to open an investigation into the June 20 incident -- her father, Jorge Conejo, died five days later -- he told her it was an accident, as surmised by EMTs who encountered Conejo sprawled on Jamaica Avenue with a head injury.

If she thought otherwise, the lieutenant told her, she should gather evidence to prove it, she told WABC.

She did.

Prodded by word on the street -- "He said, 'Jen, everyone is saying the same story that dad was murdered,'" Espinal, a 45-year-old nurse, said her brother told her -- she printed flyers and canvassed the neighborhood of the crime scene. Eventually she tracked down surveillance video and photos that showed a man emerging from a grocery around 11:30 p.m., then randomly attacking her father before fleeing, reports the Daily News.

The medical examiner declared Conejo's death a homicide last week, according to the outlet.

On Tuesday police released images of the suspect tracked down by Conejo's daughter -- and on Wednesday they arrested Daniel Rodriguez, 45, of Queens, on charges of murder and assault, police confirmed to PEOPLE.

The lieutenant's alleged initial response is "under internal review," a department spokeswoman says by email.

"He didn't even care, my dad to him was nothing, but to us, my dad was everything, he mattered," Espinal told WABC.

The lieutenant's alleged brush-off "made me a vigilante," she told the Daily News.

"The last thing I imagine every day is how my dad was laying down, how horrible, how savage my dad was murdered," she said.

Her father was an Ecuadorean immigrant who moved to the United States in his 20s after working as a circus performer in his native country, and was "an extremely hard-working man," his son, Jorge Jr., told the newspaper.

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Rodriguez has not entered a plea, and an attorney who might speak on his behalf was not immediately identified. But Espinal says she's already forgiven him.

"I am happy he is not going to be able to hurt someone else’s family,” she said, according to the Daily News. “I don’t know what demons he had that made him do this, but I hope he gets the help he needs.”

She added: “I am not going to have hate in my heart. It’s not what my dad would have wanted. He never had hate in his heart.”

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