NEW YORK (AP) — A Miami man charged in the fatal shooting of a New York City restaurant owner in 1986 is a free man after a judge dismissed his murder case after finding prosecutors took too long to charge him.
Justo Santos, 44, walked out of court a free man Thursday after Justice Robert Stolz ruled that the Manhattan district attorney's office violated his right to a speedy trial. But prosecutors said they are reviewing their options to appeal the decision.
Santos was 16 when he fatally shot Jose Martinez — in what he called an act of self-defense — and fled to the Dominican Republic. Prosecutors said they moved as quickly as they could to bring charges, but Santos' lawyer argued they had the evidence to seek an indictment in the 1990s.
Stoltz said authorities failed to do enough to find Santos, as required by law.
Joselyn Martinez worked periodically over the years to help police track down the man suspected of shooting her father outside his restaurant in the Washington Heights neighborhood 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." She also paid for online searches that turned up potential addresses and phone numbers.
Witnesses said they had seen Santos, and he was quickly named by detectives as a suspect before he fled, authorities said.
Santos was jailed in the Dominican Republic in an unrelated case about two years after the Martinez killing, served about a year and was released. The Martinez case was closed upon news of Santos' incarceration — something then-Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said should never have happened.
Unlike today, the New York Police Department did not have liaisons in the Dominican Republic.
Joselyn Martinez gave cold-case detectives the information she'd uncovered, including a search result with Santos' name, address and phone number in Miami, where he was arrested.
Information from: The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com