Murder charges announced against man in slaying of woman, 19, in south Minneapolis

Libor Jany, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Murder charges have been filed in district court Wednesday against a man in the brutal killing of 19-year-old Yadhira Romero Martínez in south Minneapolis last week.

Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga, 23, was charged with second-degree murder in Martinez's death, according to a criminal complaint by the Hennepin County Attorney's Office. Cuenca-Zuniga was arrested by authorities in Ohio over the weekend.

The complaint says that Martinez was seen on camera getting into a car outside of her job in Bloomington last Thursday afternoon. Two hours later, she and Cuenca-Zuniga were seen walking into a home in the 3000 block of S. 18th Avenue, where Cuenca-Zuniga was renting a room, according to prosecutors.

The following morning, firefighters found Martinez on a blood-soaked mattress, with a plastic bag lying across her forehead, the complaint said.

Authorities said that an autopsy concluded that she was died of multiple traumatic injuries, and that police found an object at the scene that they suspect was used as the murder weapon.

Investigators spoke with Cuenca-Zuniga's landlord, who said that she'd seen a woman's feet on the mattress in Cuenca-Zuniga's room earlier that morning, but that he insisted the woman had too much to drink. The homeowner also told police that Cuenca-Zuniga packed a bag with clothes and food, locked the door to his room and refused to pay his share of the rent, which was due on that day. Suspicious, the homeowner said she used her cellphone to record Cuenca-Zuniga as he drove away.

She said that she later called firefighters to check on the woman in the room, which is when Martinez's body was discovered.

Another resident at the home reported hearing music coming from Cuenca-Zuniga's room the night before.

The complaint makes no mention of whether Martinez and the suspect knew each other.

Martinez's family filed a missing persons report with Bloomington police when she failed to come home from work. Investigators obtained surveillance footage from her employer, showing her getting into the passenger seat of a vehicle.

At a vigil Saturday evening outside the rental house where she was found in the 3000 block of 18th Avenue S., mourners honored the life of Martínez while raising awareness and outrage over the violence against women — particularly women of color — an epidemic referred to as femicide. Another vigil was held in Atlacahualoya Morelos, Mexico, where Martínez is from, and more demonstrations in Minneapolis are planned for this week.

Martinez's family is hosting two online fundraisers through GoFundMe campaigns to raise money to transport Martínez back to Mexico so her parents can lay her to rest. Martínez, also known as Yadhi, was described as a "gentle, kind soul who was working hard for her family."

As news of her disappearance and then death spread on social media, it spawned a hashtag, #JusticiaParaYadhira.

Casa de Esperanza, a domestic violence prevention nonprofit, urged people to help "build a culture that values women, that doesn't demonize men of color, that makes violence against people of all genders unacceptable" as a way to honor Martinez.

"Yadhira Romero Martínez should still be with us. She was just 19, a daughter, an immigrant, a Mexican, an American, a worker, a sister, a 'gentle kind soul,'" the statement read.

A police spokesman previously told the Star Tribune that investigators hadn't yet been able to confirm questions circulating on social media about Martinez having hailed a ride sharing service or been picked up by someone posing as a ride share driver, because their efforts were "focused on identifying a suspect, locating him in another state and getting him into custody."

Cuenca-Zuniga remained in an Ohio jail Wednesday pending extradition to Minnesota, officials say.

Staff writer Kim Hyatt contributed to this report.

Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany