Omar Soriano has waited 22 years for good news from police about his younger cousin Minerliz, ever since that winter day in 1999 when the 13-year-old never returned home from school.
Her body was found in a Bronx, New York, dumpster days after she went missing, prompting an exhaustive investigation that went cold but was reignited nearly four years ago. “It’s been an open festering wound,” Soriano said, as he recalled the years he spent with his younger cousin, braiding her hair and playing together, and the times he walked her to elementary school. “Minnie,” as she was known, was like a sister to him.
Soriano got emotional at times Tuesday as city officials announced they had finally found Minerliz Soriano’s killer, identifying him as a former resident of the building where she lived. Officials with the NYPD and Bronx District Attorney’s office said they solved the crime by using familial DNA, hitting a historical milestone for the city, which had never closed a case by using the investigative technique.
“This case brings together modern science and traditional investigative work along with the determination to never give up on justice for an innocent little girl,” Inspector Neteis Gilbert said at a news conference. Joseph Martinez, now 49, was arraigned Tuesday on two charges of second-degree murder after a grand jury returned an indictment in the case. Martinez pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail until his next court date in March. “He has no criminal history in his entire 49 years,” his court-appointed attorney Troy Smith told CNN. “This is shocking to say the least and he maintains his innocence.”
For investigators, cracking open the case took years of work. The NYPD’s Bronx Homicide Squad began to reexamine Minerliz’s case in February 2018 and granted CNN rare access to their efforts, including exclusive interviews with detectives and witnesses, a review of parts of the case file and access to pieces of evidence. What emerged was a case that showed how science and old-fashioned detective work could provide justice for the “sweet” 13-year-old girl who wrote poems in her journals about love, rainbows and the stars.