‘Jupiter Joe’: Familial DNA leads NYPD to alleged killer of Bronx girl slain in 1999

NEW YORK — New York cold case detectives have charged a man known for impromptu astronomy lessons on the streets with the 1999 sexual assault and murder of a 13-year-old Bronx girl.

Joseph Martinez, known as “Jupiter Joe” for his sidewalk astronomy lessons, was arrested Monday and charged with murder in the death of Minerliz Soriano. The girl vanished Feb. 24, 1999, as she walked home from school.

Minerliz’s body was found four days later, wrapped in a trash bag and dumped in a trash bin behind a video store, according to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. An autopsy showed that she had been sexually assaulted before dying from compression to her neck.

News reports in 1999 said Minerliz was likely placed in a fatal chokehold.

District Attorney Darcel Clark said it has taken 22 years to find the teen’s killer, but that detectives and prosecutors never gave up hope.

“The defendant allegedly killed 13-year-old Minerliz Soriano and then took her bound body in a garbage bag and left it in a dumpster in Co-op City, near where a mall now stands. This beautiful little girl was treated as less than human,” Clark said in a statement.

Martinez, 49, of New Rochelle, is known to New Yorkers by his nickname of Jupiter Joe, which he uses for Jupiter Joe’s Sidewalk Astronomy. He has a website and YouTube channel, though the last video he posted there is dated a couple of years ago.

His introduction on his Facebook page, which remains active, states he is “bringing sidewalk astronomy to children and their families all over the Bronx.”

Clark said that Martinez was linked to the crime through familial DNA, in which a suspect’s DNA is compared to those of convicted criminals. If they get a “hit” from the system, detectives then investigate whether one of that convict’s relatives could be the culprit.

It is the first time in New York City that familial DNA is used to solve a case.

“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,” Clark’s statement read.

The search led to Martinez’s father, who is deceased. Detectives subsequently obtained a DNA swab from Martinez, which matched the semen found on Minerliz’s clothing.

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ABC 7 in New York reported that several other relatives were ruled out before Martinez was linked to the homicide.

“There were several persons of interest in this case, all of whom were excluded by DNA,” prosecutors said in court Tuesday.

Martinez’s defense lawyer said the case was an “unusual” one because Martinez has no prior criminal history.

“It’s unusual that a 49-year-old man would have his first criminal contact at this age,” attorney Troy Smith told the news station. “He denies these allegations.”

Minerliz left school the afternoon she disappeared for her usual trip from her school to her family’s apartment building a couple of miles away. According to the Daily News, her routine was to take a city bus home and wait in front of her building for her 7-year-old sister to return home.

The teen never made it home.

Watch authorities announce Martinez’s arrest and indictment below.

It was not immediately clear where Minerliz encountered her killer.

The girl’s aunt told CBS New York she has a question for Martinez.

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

Minerliz’s father, who now lives in Texas, told the news station in a phone interview that he had lost hope his daughter’s killer would ever be found. Monday’s news came as a bit of a shock.

“I feel happy because justice is working, but I feel sad at the same time because it takes too long,” Luis Soriano said.

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Authorities said they hope Minerliz’s loved ones find a measure of closure following Martinez’s arrest.

“While the technology was vital, it really was the humanity, dedication and compassion of the investigators and their relentless drive to get justice in this case,” Clark said. “That is why we do this work. I hope today’s indictment brings some consolation to the victim’s family.”

New York police Commissioner Dermot Shea praised the “dogged investigative work” that led to the arrest and subsequent charges against Martinez.

“Today’s indictment reflects the commitment of NYPD detectives to be the voice of victims who can no longer speak for themselves,” Shea said.