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NYPD claim cold case solved for first time by familial DNA as man charged in 1999 schoolgirl murder

A 49-year-old suspect nicknamed “Jupiter Joe” has been charged in connection with the 1999 murder of a Bronx schoolgirl – in the very first case of New York authorities using familial DNA to charge someone with a crime.

Joseph Martinez, of Memorial Highway, New Rochelle, was arraigned on Tuesday on two charges of second-degree murder in the death of Minerliz “Minnie” Soriano, 13, who disappeared in February 1999 while walking home from her middle school. Her body was found days later in a dumpster behind a video store in Co-op City, bound inside a garbage bag.

He has denied the charges.

“This beautiful little girl was treated as less than human,” Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said on 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.”

The suspect, who was known locally for teaching astronomy on the streets of New Rochelle and the Bronx, has no criminal history. He was found only after investigators ran DNA from a semen stain on the victim’s clothes through a New York convicted offender database, looking for a relative; it matched to Martinez’s late father.

“Jupiter Joe” was located and a DNA sample was obtained from him. It matched the specimen taken from Minnie’s sweatshirt.

“Today’s indictment reflects the commitment of NYPD detectives to be the voice of victims who can no longer speak for themselves,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said on Tuesday. “In this case they used the science of familial DNA searching, combined with dogged investigative work, to achieve a measure of closure for all who knew and loved 13-year-old Minerliz Soriano.

“Detectives, both active and retired, along with our forensic experts and partners in the Bronx District Attorney’s office never gave up in their work to ensure justice for this innocent child.”

Minnie’s family never gave up hope, either. She would now be 35 years old.

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

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

Minnie’s childhood friend, Kimberly Ortiz, told News 12 The Bronx that, “even though we have a name and a face, I still want to put her story out there on my social media page and make sure she’s never forgotten.

“I didn’t forget her all these years, and I don’t want no one else to forget her.”

At Mr Martinez’s arraignment Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty, with his attorney calling the case “unusual”.

“Mr Martinez is 49 years old; he has no criminal history," 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."

Mr Martinez is next due in court on 7 March 2022.

Under the name “Jupiter Joe”, he has posted multiple videos and photos on social media promoting his love for astronomy and determination to teach New Yorkers about the skies. He’s pictured teaching adults and children, appearing as a jovial, earnest individual.

“If I can teach a kid something cool, maybe it will inspire him to become a scientist or an astronomer,” he says in one YouTube video.