Case of slain mother, toddler is old, but not cold

CLEARWATER — Ten years ago, a mother and her toddler son were slain in a small, white house on San Remo Avenue east of downtown.

It was July 19, 2003. Petra Martin, 31, and her 2-year-old son, Uriel, were stabbed to death. Her 8-month-old daughter was unharmed and was found crawling inside the home.

Residents donated money to send their bodies back to Martin's birthplace, Hidalgo, Mexico. Detectives investigated. Martin's brothers, who lived in Orlando, gathered in Clearwater.

Much has changed since then. Most of Martin's family has moved back to Mexico, including her daughter, who is now 10 years old. Someone else lives in the San Remo house, repainted in shades of orange. New neighbors, unaware of the murders, have settled in.

But homicide detectives remember.

"Anybody that murdered such a small child in such a brutal fashion is just terrible," said homicide detective Christopher Lyons, "and needs to spend the rest of his life in prison."

Last year, Clearwater police named a suspect, Gilberto Juarez-Hernandez.

The problem: Juarez-Hernandez has a nine-year head start. Police believe he lives in Des Moines, Iowa, about 1,400 miles away, but they haven't been able to find him.

Detectives traced Juarez-Hernandez, 33, through a bloody fingerprint discovered at the crime scene, Lyons said.

For years, detectives had submitted the fingerprint to an arrest database. Last year, it matched with a 1999 arrest of Juarez-Hernandez in Des Moines on a fraud charge.

"It was a huge breakthrough," Lyons said. "It meant a lot to finally have the next step."

After the match, dozens of Clearwater police officers and volunteers distributed 1,000 flyers in English and Spanish asking for information about his whereabouts. Detectives believe he is in Des Moines because he has family there, including two brothers.

Two first-degree murder warrants were issued for his arrest. Clearwater investigators are working with authorities in Des Moines, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and an Iowa state fugitive officer, Lyons said.

They issued a "red notice" through Interpol, which notifies 190 countries that Juarez-Hernandez is wanted in the United States.

Lyons also has contacted the fugitive task force for the U.S. Marshals Service in hopes that it will take on the case.

Martin moved to the United States four years before she was killed. Her son, diagnosed with cancer, had recently recovered. She lived at 400 S San Remo Ave. with two roommates and her daughter's father.

John Hemmings has lived across the street for 13 years. He sometimes saw Martin tending to plants while her children played in the front yard.

The day of the killings, he went out for groceries. When he came back, patrol cars blocked the street.

"It looked like every police officer in Clearwater was up here," he said.

Detectives believe Martin and Juarez-Hernandez knew each other, but don't know the extent of their relationship.

In his 1999 mug shot, Juarez-Hernandez has dark hair and brown eyes. He is 5 feet 8, weighs 150 pounds, and has scars on his back and his left hand.

Anyone with information is asked to call Clearwater police at (727) 562-4080.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157.

Case of slain mother, toddler is old, but not cold 07/26/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 8:07pm]

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