Created on: March 20, 2013 Last Updated: March 21, 2013
Authorities in Turkey have detained a man they say is responsible for the brutal slaying of New York woman, Sarai Sierra. In the latest twist to this tragic story, a homeless scrap collector has been arrested in Hatay Province near the Turkey-Syria border and charged with the murder of the 33 year old Staten Island mother of two.
According to Turkish news agency Anadolu, the suspect, Ziya Tasali, 46, was tracked on the basis of DNA evidence recovered from the scene, which was then compared with samples taken from his siblings. Anadolu also reports that Tasali has been returned to Istanbul, and that he has confessed to attacking and killing Sierra while under the influence of vapors inhaled from paint thinner. If convicted by a court, Tasali faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Sarai Sierra disappeared while on a photography holiday in January. She had originally planned to travel with a friend but when that person cancelled, she decided to travel alone. Istanbul police quickly established a special task force to look for the missing woman. Sierra’s husband, Steven, and her brother, David Jimenez, also travelled to Turkey to assist in the search.
On February 2, Sierra was found dead near Istanbul’s old city walls and not far from Galata Bridge, a popular spot for tourists to take pictures. She had been missing for 12 days, and been killed by a severe blow on the head. Early reports suggested that she may have been killed elsewhere and her body later hidden near the city walls.
Sierra had apparently fought back against her attacker and police were able to recover DNA samples from under Sierra’s fingernails. These were compared with numerous samples, including family members of Tasali, who witnesses reported as having ‘fingernail scratches’ on the day of the murder.
Tasali was traced to locations in Syria and Hatay, and although reports about his arrest are sketchy and often contradictory, it appears that he was caught on Sunday, March 17, as he attempted to re-enter Turkey. It is unclear whether Syrian rebel forces played any part in his capture.
In his confession, which is documented at TimeTurk.com, Tasali claims that “I do not remember how it happened. I must have hit her head with a heavy object. As I came back in the morning, she was dead. I covered her.” He adds that at the time, he was high as the result of sniffing paint thinner.
In the video, he claims that he wandered around Istanbul for a few days, before deciding to flee to Syria. “On the 10th day, when the police found this dead body, I had to escape into Syria,” he says, “and now I am captured.”
Sarai Sierra was buried near her Staten Island home on February 14, a date that also marked the fifteenth anniversary of her engagement to husband Steven.
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