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Body of missing Lakeland teen Marco Martinez recovered; murder suspect named

6:34 PM, Oct 5, 2010   |    comments
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Lakeland, Florida - For six months the family of Marco Martinez lit candles and prayed for his safe return, but now investigators say they've found a body and a murder suspect.

"My mom thought he was going to come back and had his room ready - everything washed, but I guess that's not going to happen," says Marco's older sister Julie Martinez.

Marco, 16, mysteriously disappeared from his home last April. His family knew something was wrong, because they said he would never have left his little niece unattended.

Detectives soon zeroed in on a childhood friend and known gang member Santos Hernandez. They questioned the teen repeatedly. "He was tough for a 16-year-old kid. He was real tough," says Polk Sheriff Grady Judd.

But under questioning, Santos said someone else had told him where the body was located and he drew detectives a map. A body matching the description of Martinez was located in a shallow grave in some woods very near Martinez's home. Judd says Santos later admitted shooting and stabbing Martinez during an argument over money.

"One of his statements was that he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in prison. My suggestion is, he should have thought of that before he murdered Marco," said Judd at a Tuesday news conference.

Santos is in the Polk County jail serving time on unrelated charges, but Judd says a murder charge will be filed as soon as the medical examiner officially identifies the body.

It's been a long six months for the Martinez family, months filled with worry. "My mother says sometimes she would just hear his voice, screaming out for help," says Julie.

Now there may be answers, but instead of relief, there is grief.  Marco's father Cirilo Martinez says, "I guess I want people to remember Marco like he is, a happy boy."

Kathryn Bursch, 10 News

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