It took 26 years, but Joselyn Martinez was on a self-set mission: She would find her father’s killer and bring him to justice. Her amazing story of persistence in the face of nearly insurmountable odds, time, and an uncaring legal system will likely be made into a movie, but for now she’s undoubtedly happy to tell the tale of how she doggedly pursued a name for nearly a decade until she caught up with the man that she believed killed her father all those years before.
Joselyn Martinez told her story June 12 on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.” The now 35-year-old actress has herself to thank for the capture of the man who shot and killed her father in 1986. That man, Justo Santos, was arrested in Miami on June 6 and detained.
New York City detectives went to Miami to extradite Santos. He has already confessed to killing Jose Martinez.
But the case was almost never solved. In fact, it was considered closed in 1988, according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, when authorities found out Santos, who was 16 at the time, had fled to the Dominican Republic and was incarcerated there. As fate would have it, he was imprisoned in the island country for murder.
At the time of her father’s death, Martinez was nine years old. She woke up on November 23, 1986, and was confronted with the news that her father had been shot and killed during an altercation at his New York restaurant the night before. A fight that had started inside the restaurant spilled out onto the sidewalk. The 16-year-old Santos then allegedly produced a gun and shot Martinez.
Martinez didn’t immediately begin looking for her father’s killer, of course. Truthfully, she tried to put it behind her. Her father’s unsolved killing prompted her to major in Law at New York University. Discovering that there is no statute of limitations on murder, the pre-law student decided to look at her father’s case again.
Her father had been dead nearly ten years by this time. She found out that the NYPD had closed the case and that Santos had been imprisoned in the Dominican Republic, had been released a year later, and nobody knew his whereabouts.
Martinez knew that the only way to get the NYPD to reopen the case was to find Santos. But, like she told CNN’s Piers Morgan, she had first tried to let it go. Then in 2006 and an aspiring actress and singer, inspired by a book she’d read, she wrote a list of things that were bothering her. One of the items on the list was that she had never found her father’s killer.
She said: “And I was nervous about it because I was like, ‘wow, once I write it I have to admit it.’ And I hated admitting it because that meant that I was going to have to live with the possibility of this not coming about.”
Matinez would spend a little less than $300 on Internet search databases in her quest. She spent time searching MySpace and other social networking sites in hopes of finding Justo Santos. She had also saved up photos and information she thought might be relevant to finding the man she believed was responsible for her father’s death.
“My family told me, don’t ever forget that name,” she told Morgan.
She didn’t. In November, she found her father’s file in the cold case division and in January she presented her case to the NYPD in an effort to reopen the case.
“They should not have closed the case,” NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said Tuesday. “(It) should have been looked at to see if there was additional information as to whether or not he was out of jail.”
Working with the police, Santos’ trail eventually led to Miami.
“She’s the person most responsible for finding her father’s killer,” Browne said. “She did outstanding work.”
Martinez, however, considers the capture a team effort and acknowledges the quickness with which New York investigators worked with her information. She also commends the NYPD for their helpfulness.
The NYPD is equally quick to acknowledge that the arrest would have never been made had it not been for the effort and work put in by Joselyn Martinez.
Martinez is an actress and currently billed to star in an original series for the USA Network, “Wives In The Heights,” which is in pre-production. According to the Internet Movie Database, she’s also done voiceover work for a popular video game (“Grand Theft Auto IV”) and starred in the 2007 film “Cross Bronx.”
Undoubtedly, the events of her own life will now be chronicled in a movie. There’s a starring role she was born to play…