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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Sarai Sierra Murder Case

     Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old Staten Island, New York wife and mother of two, on January 7, 2013, flew to Istanbul, Turkey. Sierra, an amateur photographer and student at the College of Staten Island, had planned to travel to Turkey with her friend Magdalena Rodriguez who canceled at the last minute. As a result, the part time chiropractor's office employee landed alone in Istanbul, a sprawling city of 14 million.

     During her two-week adventure in Turkey in which she resided in a basement apartment in one of Istanbul's seediest neighborhoods, Sierra remained in touch with her husband Steven, her children, and friends through her iPhone and iPad. On January 15, Sierra flew to Amsterdam where she remained three days. On January 18, on her way back to Turkey, she spend a few hours in Munich, Germany.

      When Sierra's homeward bound plane landed in New York City on January 21, she was not onboard. That is when Steven Sierra reported her missing to the Istanbul police, and made plans to travel to Turkey to search for his wife.

     Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, compared to other major metropolitan concentrations in the region, was relatively safe from violent crime. Because tourism was a big business in the city, local authorities were eager to find the missing American tourist. Members of the special investigative unit formed to find Sarai Sierra reviewed thousands of hours of downtown surveillance camera footage for a glimpse of the missing woman and clues to her whereabouts. They came up empty-handed.

     On February 2, 2013, residents who lived near the remnants of Istanbul's ancient city walls not far from the Galata Bridge that spanned the Golden Horn waterway, discovered the body of a woman. Police made a tentative identification of the corpse through a driver's license found on the body of the fully-dressed woman. The fact that Sarai Sierra was still wearing her earrings, a bracelet, a gold ring, and a necklace, ruled out robbery as a motive for her murder. Her iPhone and iPad were missing.

     Sarai Sierra had been killed by several blows to the head. The presence of a blanket near the body suggested she had been murdered elsewhere and dumped at the site not far from the busy highway.

     Not long after the discovery of the American tourist's murdered remains, a local woman came forward with information that on January 29, 2013 she had seen a man removing "something" at the presumed dump site from a white car. The witness said she saw a woman's hand protruding from the blanketed bundle taken out of vehicle by the man.

     In the course of their murder investigation, the Istanbul police detained fifteen people for questioning. Because the case had attracted so much media attention in Turkey, the local authorities were eager to bring Sierra's killer or killers to justice.

     On February 4, 2013, prosecutors in Istanbul were granted a court order allowing the acquisition of DNA samples from suspects who had been questioned in the case. DNA samples from Sierra's body and the recovery site blanket--hair follicles and scrapings from beneath the victim's fingernails--were sent to a crime lab for analysis. Also, the FBI entered the case.

     Istanbul police, in the spring of 2013, arrested a 47-year-old collector of scrap paper named Ziya Tasali. Tasali confessed to killing Sarai Sierra after she resisted his kiss in the Fatih district of the city. Tasali denied raping the victim. He said she "hit me with her phone between my two eyebrows, and I pushed her to the floor." She then picked up a rock and threw it at him. "I got very angry," he said. "I hit her with a stone I grabbed off the floor."

     The murder suspect said he was sniffing paint thinner at the time of the killing.

     On June 24, 2014, Tasali was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. 

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