QUEENS — A homeless convict was arrested for sexually assaulting and killing a young fashion student in her Astoria apartment four years ago after investigators linked him to the brutal crime using DNA, police said.
Carmen Saldana, a 23-year-old who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, was found dead in the bedroom of her 30th Avenue home on July 12, 2009, having been brutally beaten, sexually assaulted and asphyxiated, according to the NYPD and Daily News.
Investigators couldn't identify her killer until they recently linked a DNA sample from the scene to Jose Martinez, 30, who is serving time in the Riverview Correctional Facility for an unrelated robbery.
A stoic Martinez, dressed in a dark green jumpsuit, pleaded not guilty in Queens Criminal Court Thursday while Saldana's family and friends looked on.
"I really want him to pay for this," said Saldana's older brother, Carlos Saldana, 34, who flew to New York from Mexico to be with his family for the arraignment.
Prosecutors say Martinez ran into Saldana on a street in Astoria as she was returning from a party in Long Island City. He told detectives he saw that she was drunk and offered to walk her home, prosecutors said.
When they arrived at her building, Saldana refused to let him inside her apartment, prosecutors said. Martinez then kicked in the door of the apartment, where he beat, raped and strangled her, then covered her body with a blanket, prosecutors said.
Her mother, 57-year-old Susana Saldana, told the Daily News that she came home that evening and found the family cat sitting on a chair staring at her daughter in bed.
"I said, 'Carmen, you fell asleep,'" Saldana said. "I raised the blanket and my little girl was dead."
“I hope justice is served to this animal,” the mother added. “He destroyed my life. I want him to pay for what he did.”
Officials say Martinez was arrested in 2011 for attacking a cab driver at LaGuardia Airport, and was convicted of reckless endangerment for that crime the following year, when he was required to submit a DNA sample.
His DNA was matched to that found at the scene of Saldana's murder.
Though prosecutors have listed Martinez's age as 30, they say he told investigators he was 15 at the time of the incident in order to get a lighter sentence.
But Saldana's brother Carlos Saldana says he doesn't buy it.
"I'm 34 and he looks much older than me," he said.
He said his family is still reeling from the loss of his sister, who he described as always ready to lend a helping help.
"Always smiling, happy, confident — a very confident person," he said.
He said the recent arrest brought some comfort to him. After four years, he was beginning to think his sister's murder would never be solved.
"I thought he was going to get away with it," he said.
But he said even seeing Martinez behind bars if he is convicted won't heal the pain caused by her murder.
"Nothing is going to bring my sister back," Carlos Saldana said. "He's going to be in jail, but he's alive."
Martinez was indicted Thursday morning on of charges of murder, predatory sexual assault, kidnapping, rape, burglary, criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment, petit larceny and possession of stolen property, according to the Queens District Attorney's office.
He was held without bail and ordered to return to court Nov. 20.
Martinez's defense attorney, Michael Siff, called the case a "very tragic situation," but urged the public not to rush to judgment.
"In the end, justice will served either way," he said.