Opening statements delivered, witnesses called in Christopher Clements’ trial for death of Maribel Gonzalez
Accused child killer set to face a jury for the death of Isabel Celis next year
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Opening statements were delivered and three witnesses took the stand during the first trial of Christopher Clements on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Clements is facing several charges for allegedly kidnapping and killing Isabel Celis in 2012 and Maribel Gonzalez in 2014.
Isabel was 6 years old when she was taken from her family’s home while Maribel was 13 years old when she went missing after walking to a friend’s home.
The current trial is for Maribel’s death. Clements will face a jury for Isabel’s death next year.
On Tuesday, Clements entered the courtroom wearing a black and white prison uniform.
Joseph DiRoberto, one of Clements’ attorneys, said he sent his client a change of clothes to the Pima County Adult Detention Complex. DiRoberto said there was a problem with jail staff and Clements was not allowed to change.
After a 30-minute delay, Clements returned to the courtroom in a blue dress shirt and black pants. After Clements’ handcuffs were removed, DiRoberto was allowed to put a tie on his client.
The jury is comprised of nine women and seven men. That includes four alternate jurors, who will sit in on the trial in case a juror falls ill or cannot perform their duties. The jury ranges from middle-aged to senior citizens, with at least a few people of color.
The jury was then sworn in by Judge James Marner and attorneys delivered their opening statements.
In the state’s opening statement, Tracy Miller with the Pima County Attorney’s Office said Clements’ girlfriend told investigators she got into an argument with him the day Maribel went missing. The couple lived just blocks away from where Maribel was walking when she went missing.
Clements left the home after the fight and asked his girlfriend for cleaning supplies, including bleach, when he returned. He then left in his girlfriend’s vehicle before coming back with more bleach.
Clements allegedly asked his girlfriend if she looked in his trunk before getting back into his own vehicle and driving away.
Miller said Clements was gone all night. His girlfriend told investigators when he came back, he took a shower and asked her to wash his clothes and the shower curtain. The girlfriend said she just thought he was out with another woman.
Miller said Clements’ DNA was found on Maribel’s body and cell phone evidence put him at the scene.
According to court documents, investigators searched Clements’ computer and found hidden photos of very young girls in lingerie or playing at beaches and playgrounds. Some of those photos were allegedly taken in Tucson, according to Miller, without the victims’ knowledge.
In the opening statement for the defense, DiRoberto claimed Clements did not know Maribel and had no contact with her family or friends. DiRoberto also said there are no witnesses to establish where Maribel was or who she was with the night she died.
He said days before her death, Maribel was told her friend couldn’t live at her mother’s home anymore after they got arrested for joyriding. He claimed Maribel often ran away from home, drank, smoked, walked around at night and chased after/slept with older men.
While DiRoberto admitted a DNA test was a partial match for Clements, he claimed a full sample would have excluded his client as a suspect. He also attacked the accuracy of cell phone tracking, which put Clements in the area of where Maribel’s body was found the night of her disappearance -- a desert area near Trico and West Avra Valley roads in Pima County.
The first witness called was retired Pima County Sheriff’s Department Det. Joseph Borquez.
Borquez said Maribel’s body was found under a tree and next to a mound of tires. He said she was naked and there were drag marks that led from the road to the body.
Sgt. Mark O’Dell was the next witness and gave even more descriptions of the gruesome scene.
He said Maribel’s body was found tucked under a tree with two tires stacked on top of it.
O’Dell said Maribel’s body was experiencing “advanced decomposition.”
Lois Oleson, a bus driver for Marana Unified, was the state’s third witness. Oleson is the one who discovered Maribel’s body and called 911.
Oleson said she was living in Avra Valley and would often take Trico Road home. She said it was never a busy.
On that fateful day, Oleson noticed drag marks near Trico Road going off into the distance. She said she did not notice the marks on her way to school, only on the way home.
Oleson said she ended up following the tracks to a mesquite tree. She said about a dozen vultures flew out of the tree when she approached.
She said she saw red hair sticking out below a tire. Oleson said she decided to flip the tire over and that is when she discovered the naked body of the missing teen.
JURY DISMISSED, ARGUMENTS CONTINUE
After the jury was dismissed, the prosecution approached Marner. Miller asked DiRoberto’s claims Maribel once told her mother she had been sexually assaulted and used the story for attention and to distract from her “bad behavior” be disregarded in court. She said the claims were hearsay. DiRoberto said it added context to the circumstances that may have surrounded Maribel’s death.
Marner responded, “Maribel’s character is not on trial.”
He ruled the defense cannot comment on or question witnesses about Maribel’s past behavior going forward.
DISAPPEARED IN THE DESERT
KOLD has been covering the case for years. In 2021, we released an award-winning podcast called Disappeared in the Desert.
- 6-year-old Isabel Celis goes missing from Tucson home
- Psychic weighs in on Celis disappearance
- Police: CPS had previous contact with Celis family
- Father of juvenile prank callers apologizes to Celis family
- Neighbor heard male voices near Celis home the morning of her disappearance
- Maribel Gonzales’ father talks body found in desert
- Friends react to Gonzales’ suspicious death
- Police: Maribel Gonzales was murdered
- Deeply saddened but not broken, murder victims’ families speak out
- Christopher Clements indicted in deaths of Isabel Celis and Maribel Gonzales
- Documents reveal chilling details into Isabel Celis, Maribel Gonzales investigation
- Murder suspect Christopher Clements had multiple run-ins with Tucson police
- Clements pleads not guilty in deaths of Isabel Celis, Maribel Gonzales
- New documents reveal details in the murder of two Tucson girls
- Documents detail hours, days and weeks after the disappearance of Isabel Celis
- Best friend of Maribel Gonzales remembers her on graduation day
- State will not seek death penalty for man accused of killing Isabel Celis, Maribel Gonzales
- ONLY ON KOLD: Video of interrogation of accused child killer Christopher Clements
- ONLY ON KOLD: FBI interrogation videos shows deal accused child killer tried to make with special agents
- Prosecutors argue photo proves Christopher Clements kidnapped, killed Isabel Celis
- Clements convicted of burglary in Maricopa County
- Clements, accused Tucson child killer, gets prison time in Maricopa County burglary case
- High profile murder case starts in Tucson
- Jury seated for Clements first murder trial
CLEMENTS’ CRIMINAL HISTORY
- In 1993, Clements was accused of molesting a very young child but was never charged.
- In 1998, he was convicted of first-degree sexual abuse in Oregon.
- In 2002, he was convicted of identity theft and assault in Washington.
- In 2006, he was convicted of failure to register as a sex offender in Florida.
- In 2007, he was convicted of failure to register as a sex offender in Oregon.
- In late 2007, he was charged with false reporting in Tucson after allegedly giving a police officer a fake name.
- In 2011, he registered as a sex offender and was living at a home in the 1900 block of South Craycroft Road.
- In 2012, he registered as a sex offender and was living at a home in the 5800 block of East Elida Street.
- In 2013, he was charged with living too close to a school as a sex offender.
- In 2015, he was arrested on charges of pimping and child abuse but the charges were later dismissed.
- In June 2016, he was arrested in connection with a burglary in Tucson.
- In January 2017, he was arrested in connection with a burglary in Maricopa County.
- In February 2017, he contacts the FBI alleging he has information on Isabel Celis’ body.
- In March 2017, he leads federal agents to human remains near North Trico and West Avra Valley roads. DNA testing revealed the remains are from Isabel Celis.
- In September 2018, he was indicted on 22 counts in connection with the deaths of Isabel and Maribel. He would later plead not guilty to all charges.
- In April 2022, he was convicted in the Maricopa County burglary case.
- In June 2022, he was sentenced to more than 30 years for the Maricopa County burglary case.
- In September 2022, he goes on trial for the death of Maribel.
- In February 2023, he is set to go on trial for the death of Isabel.
ISABEL CELIS TIMELINE
- April 20, 2012: Isabel Mercedes Celis went to bed in her bedroom.
- April 21, 2012: Around 8 a.m., family members call 911 after they discover she is not in the house.
- April 22, 2012: FBI search dogs arrive from Virginia to aid in the search.
- April 23, 2012: Celis family and 88-CRIME post a $6,000 reward.
- March 2017: Human remains were discovered near North Trico and West Avra Valley roads in rural Pima County.
- March 31, 2017: DNA analysis confirms remains are those of Isabel Celis.
- Sept. 15, 2018: Authorities announce the indictment of Christopher Matthew Clements in Isabel’s death.
- Feb. 3, 2023: Murder trial to begin.
MARIBEL GONZALES TIMELINE
- June 3, 2014: Maribel Gonzales leaves home to walk and visit a friend.
- June 4, 2014: Gonzales was reported missing by her family after she failed to come home.
- June 6, 2014: Human remains were discovered near North Trico and West Avra Valley roads in rural Pima County.
- June 20, 2014: DNA analysis confirms remains are those of Maribel Gonzales.
- Sept. 15, 2018: Authorities announce the indictment of Christopher Matthew Clements in Maribel’s death.
- Sept. 8, 2022: Clements’ murder began.
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