A Tragic Moment, A Lifelong Search: A Woman's Effort To Bring Her Dad's Suspected Killer To Justice

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“In that one moment, my whole life changed,” Joselyn Martinez said. “It’s amazing how much.”

The moment Martinez, a model and entertainer, is referring to took place on Nov. 22, 1986, when she was only 9 years old.

Her parents, José and Idalia, were working at the Dominican restaurant he owned in Upper Manhattan. Three teenagers walked in and began to make offensive comments. Her father and others threw the men out of the restaurant and in the ensuing scuffle, according to police, a 16-year-old named Justo Santos pulled out a gun and shot her dad in the chest, killing him.

“I replayed that moment over and over again, wishing I was there,” Martinez, now 37, told Fox News Latino. “Maybe he wouldn’t have been in that same spot at that precise moment had I been there.”

She has been reliving it even more this week, while testifying and attending a hearing at a State Supreme Court hearing in Manhattan to determine whether Santos’ right to a speedy trial has been violated by his arrest, 26 years after the crime.

The reason he was finally caught? A daughter who was named after her father.

The murder hammered the family.

“The funeral was the worst,” Martinez said. “It was hard to see him in the coffin. None of it made any sense to me. It was packed. Then my mom started to miscarry—she didn’t even know she was pregnant.”

They moved to New Jersey, but that led to more isolation, so they moved back to Upper Manhattan.

“It was a lonely life,” she said. “We never talked about what happened.”

As for Santos, who had been identified by eyewitnesses by photo, he fled to the Dominican Republic soon afterward. The detective investigating the case found out and even spoke to Santos on the telephone. He confessed to the killing, court papers claim.

But despite the best efforts of the NYPD to get him arrested and extradited, he avoided their grasp.

“After that, I had a burden inside,” Martinez said. “I knew I had something to carry out.”

She remembers as a young woman coming across a newspaper article about a father who tracked down his son’s killer. “Maybe I can do something like that,” she thought.

Unknown even to her mother, she searched for Santos. “I remembered details that the detectives had told my mom when I was 9. I had his picture seared in my mind.”

She went back to the 34th Precinct hoping to look at the case file, but she never got that.

“They did give me a synopsis of the information they had about their suspect,” she said. “And that included his birthdate.”

Using that information, she paid for background checks on Santos, searched on MySpace and Facebook and via Google for traces of him, and, last summer, she found a man living in Miami with his name and birthdate. She then told the police what she had learned.

“When the whole thing happened and he got arrested,” she said, “I really wanted my father there, to be able to talk to him about it. This emptiness I had, this feeling that anything could go wrong at any moment began to lift.”

Was her mother surprised?

“I think she had an intuition about what I was up to,” Martinez told FNL. “I would let something slip, and she would look at me in a funny way. But we never talked about it.”

She continued, “When my family found out what I had done and what happened, it was bittersweet, but more joyous than not. My father was a leader in the family. He deserved justice.”

Justice Robert M. Stolz is likely to conclude the hearing and issue a decision on whether or not Santos can be tried for José Martinez’s murder this week. After that there may be a trial, which Joselyn won’t testify at, but she plans to attend.

However the legal proceedings conclude, a large part of Martinez’s life will come to a close.

“It’s true that maybe I haven’t been able to totally pursue everything I have wanted to do with my life, professionally, creatively,” she admitted.

“But if I could trade spending 10 years in jail for having one more second with my father, I would. He was worth it.”