N.Y. Girl, 13, Was Killed on Way Home from School in 1999, Suspect Has Been Teaching Astronomy

Joseph Martinez, 49, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the death of Minerliz Soriano

minerliz soriano
Minerliz Soriano .

A New York man, who goes by the name Jupiter Joe as he teaches astronomy on the streets, has been arrested in the cold case slaying of a 13-year-old girl.

Joseph Martinez, 49, was charged with two counts of second-degree murder — felony and intentional — Tuesday in the death of Minerliz Soriano.

Familial DNA testing, a technique that searches offender DNA databanks for a father, son or brother of an unknown perpetrator, led investigators to Martinez.

It was the first time the technology was used to solve a crime in New York City, authorities alleged. The same technology was used in 2010 to capture Grim Sleeper serial killer Lonnie Franklin Jr., who preyed on Black women in South Los Angeles for more than two decades until he was finally caught. Franklin was finally caught after his 28-year-old son, Christopher, was arrested for carrying a weapon in the summer of 2009 and had to give up a DNA swab.

Soriano was found strangled inside a garbage dumpster behind a video store in Co-op City on Feb. 28, 1999, three days after she was last seen leaving her middle school. She had been bound and her body wrapped in a garbage bag.

She had been sexually abused, say authorities.

"This beautiful little girl was treated as less than human," Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said Tuesday. "It has been 22 years since her life was cruelly taken, but detectives never gave up on finding justice for her and her family, and neither did my ADAs."

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE's free True Crime newsletter for breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

"I feel happy because justice is working, but I feel sad at the same time because it takes too long," Minerliz's father, Luis Soriano, told CBS2.

"I'd like to say to him, 'Why?'" Amelia Soriano, the victim's aunt, told CBS2. "He threw her in the garbage, in the dumpster like she was garbage. She wasn't garbage. She was a human being."

Investigators submitted an application for a familial search in April 2019.

"A DNA sample, which was obtained from a semen stain on the victim's sweatshirt, was submitted to the New York State convicted offender DNA database for male relatives that matched the specimen, which led to Martinez's father, who is deceased," a press release states. "Investigators then obtained a DNA sample from the defendant, which matched the DNA found on the victim's sweatshirt."

Martinez, who goes by the name Jupiter Joe, offered sidewalk astronomy lessons to passersby in the Bronx and New Rochelle.

Martinez's lawyer said his client had nothing to do with the crime, ABC7 reports.

"The case is pretty unusual in that Mr. Martinez is 49 years old, he has no criminal history," attorney Troy Smith said. "It's unusual that a 49-year-old man would have his first criminal contact at this age. He denies these allegations."

PEOPLE could not reach Smith for comment.

Related Articles