Daughter tracks father's alleged killer
02:23 - Source: CNN

Joselyn Martinez tells Piers Morgan how she tracked down her father’s killer on ‘Piers Morgan Live’ tonight, 9pm ET

Story highlights

Her family's tragedy started in November 1986

Her father, Jose Martinez, had an altercation with customers at his restaurant

One of the customers, then 16-year-old Justo Santos, allegedly produced a firearm and killed him

New York City CNN  — 

Joselyn Martinez was 9 when her father was shot and killed outside his New York City restaurant in 1986.

Nearly three decades later, she may finally see justice for his death. And she has herself to thank.

Her family’s tragedy started on November 22 1986, when her father, Jose Martinez, had an altercation with a few customers at a restaurant he owned with his wife.

The fight moved outside the restaurant and got physical, according to the New York Police Department. One of the customers, then 16-year-old Justo Santos, allegedly produced a firearm and shot Martinez in the chest.

When Joselyn awoke the next morning, her father was dead.

“Reading the paper for him in Spanish,” Joselyn said of her favorite memories of her father. “He would tell me to read the paper for him, and I would sit with him and read the paper in Spanish.”

Case closed

After the killing, the NYPD received information that Santos had run to the Dominican Republic and was incarcerated there for murder, and the case was closed in 1988, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said.

A year after Santos was imprisoned, he was released from the Dominican Republic prison. But the New York case remained closed.

“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.”

Martinez grew up and eventually went to school to study law and Latin American studies, a path she later left for a career as a singer and actress, she says.

Law lessons

In one of her law classes, she learned that there were no statutes of limitation on homicides. She decided to take another look at her father’s case.

About 10 years after the shooting, she said, she went to the NYPD’s 34th precinct. But she was told that the case was closed and the suspect had fled.

“You let it go, but not really,” she said. “Because November comes around, when is the anniversary of his death, and I just get upset.”

In 2006, inspired by a book, Martinez wrote down a list of things that were bothering her.

“I said well, I put that in there,” she said about never finding her father’s killer.

“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.”

‘Don’t ever forget that name’

But Martinez scoured the Internet, reading stories and using MySpace, among other sites, to look for Santos.

She saved pictures and information she thought could lead to Santos’ discovery. Martinez said she spent less than $300 on sites that conduct background checks to find his current location.

“My family told me, don’t ever forget that name,” she said.

In November last year, Martinez went looking for her father’s file in the 34th precinct cold case division. And in January, she went back to the police chief at the precinct and presented her case.

She worked with police and they eventually located Santos in Miami. He was arrested and detained by Miami-Dade Police on Thursday, and police sources said he confessed to Jose Martinez’s slaying.

New York detectives are in Miami and plan to bring Santos back to New York on Friday.

The arrest would never have happened without her, according to the NYPD.

“She’s the person most responsible for finding her father’s killer,” Browne said. “She did outstanding work.”

Martinez said the police were quick to respond to the information she gathered and were extremely helpful when she went to them.

“It took a team effort,” Martinez said.

Her mother, Idalia Martinez, beamed with pride after the arrest.

“I am thankful to God and to my daughter for never resting and didn’t care for how many years,” she said.

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CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Dana Garrett and Julian Cummings contributed to this report.