NEW YORK (AP) — An aspiring actress has helped police track down a suspect in her father's 1986 slaying.
Periodically, over the last few years, Joselyn Martinez would try to find information about the man accused of shooting and killing her father outside his restaurant on Nov. 22, 1986, when she was 9 years old.
Beginning in 2006, she trolled Myspace and Facebook for information. In 2011, she wrote a letter to "America's Most Wanted." Through it all, she spent her own money, dishing out payments of $69.99 to various online search programs that turn up potential addresses and phone numbers for people.
And on Friday, her efforts were vindicated when police arrested Justo Santos on charges he murdered her father, Jose Martinez, outside his Dominican restaurant in the city's Washington Heights neighborhood 27 years ago.
"It's amazing," Martinez, 36, said Tuesday. "I didn't plan for this. It's been surreal."
Police said Santos, whose arrest in Miami was first reported by the Daily News, has made statements implicating himself in the killing. On Tuesday, Santos agreed to let police return him to New York later. He was in police custody Tuesday and wasn't available for comment, and there was no information on whether he had an attorney. He has a Miami court date later this month.
Witnesses to the 1986 killing said they had seen Santos, and he was quickly named by detectives as a suspect, but he fled to the Dominican Republic shortly after.
Martinez, who has appeared in Spanish-language music videos, radio commercials and a video game and wants to be in TV shows and movies, said there was "no plan" in her search efforts over the years.
"It was totally, absolutely in my eyes, totally random," said Martinez, who has appeared on the Dominican TV show "Divertido con Jochy," or "Fun with Jochy."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters on Tuesday that Santos, 43, had been jailed in the Dominican Republic in an unrelated case about two years after the Martinez killing but served just more than a year before he was released. Kelly said Martinez's case was closed upon news of Santos' incarceration in the Dominican Republic — something that should never have happened.
"They should not have closed the case," Kelly said.
Unlike today, the New York Police Department did not have liaisons in the Dominican Republic at that time.
But Joselyn Martinez continued her own search, saving her search results to a folder on her laptop dedicated to solving her father's killing.
"I didn't suddenly find him. This took years of putting away efforts," she said. "It just took many years, and I felt like I was doing something. I didn't tell anybody. I didn't want people to think I was crazy."
Martinez said in February she met with detectives from a cold-case squad to turn over all the information she'd uncovered, including a search result with Santos' name, address and phone number in Miami. She said detectives from the cold-case squad used her information and traveled to Miami, where they made the arrest without incident.
"I just feel like I had to do it for my father," she said, "and it's up to New York state to decide what happens next."