Maribel Gonzalez’ mother, Christopher Clements’ former girlfriend, take the stand during murder trial
Accused child killer set to face a jury for the death of Isabel Celis next year
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The first murder trial of accused Tucson child killer 40-year-old Christopher Clements continued Wednesday, Sept. 14, with more witnesses, including heartbreaking testimony by the victim’s mother.
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.
The trial started last week with jury selections but kicked into high gear Tuesday with opening statements and witness testimony.
WEDNESDAY WITNESS TESTIMONY
On Wednesday, the first witness called by the state was 35-year-old Thomas Keyes.
Keyes, who was 26 when he met Maribel, said they were just friends and claimed nothing sexual ever happened. Keyes said he had a girlfriend at the time and that his friendship with Maribel caused problems.
Keyes said he met Maribel at the Pima County Fair in 2014. Keyes said Maribel came to his home a few times, but she would often make plans and not show up.
He said the two of them would sit, talk and watch TV. Maribel would spend the night, but Keyes said they never slept together.
While on the stand, Keyes admitted that he thought Maribel was attractive and said he has always liked shorter girls.
On June 3, 2014, the day Maribel disappeared, she texted Keyes to tell him she was coming over. Keyes said he wasn’t worried when she didn’t show up because it wasn’t unusual.
Keyes said he texted Maribel’s mom [at 10:58 p.m.] to let her know Maribel never showed up.
Keyes said he didn’t find out Maribel was missing until police showed up at his home the next day. Keyes said he has cooperated with the investigation, even providing a DNA sample.
The state’s next witness Wednesday was Valerie Calonge, Maribel’s mother.
Valerie said by early 2014, she and Maribel’s father, Adrian Gonzalez, were considering separation but were still living together and co-parenting.
Valerie said her daughter was friendly, but she wouldn’t just go right up and talk to people.
Valerie said she and Maribel were close, calling her a “mini-me.” She said the two would often go shopping, out to eat, or clean the house together.
In early 2014, Valerie was in the hospital after being violently attacked. At that time, Maribel was staying with relatives in Safford.
By May, Valerie said her daughter was living with her again. That is when Valerie moved into an apartment near Broadway Boulevard and Wilmot Road.
Valerie said when they moved back in together, Maribel seemed “more mature” and “quieter.”
On the day she went missing, Maribel asked Valerie to go hang out with one of her female friends. The two then planned to walk to Keyes’ home.
Valerie didn’t have a vehicle at that time, so Maribel walked. Maribel did not have a phone with her.
The following is a text message exchange, provided by prosecutors:
- 9:55 p.m. Valerie: “Maribel is walking over there.”
- 9:57 p.m. Keyes: “Okay.”
- 10:58 p.m. Keyes: “I am here. R u sure she said she coming here?”
When Maribel did not come home, Valerie says she called around. She said she then walked to the places Maribel normally hung out and then met up with some of her friends to keep looking for her.
When Valerie couldn’t find her daughter, she called police and reported her missing the next day.
Valerie held up a photo of Maribel to show the jury. Through sobs, she said, “She’s about 13. Beautiful.”
Some jurors appeared misty-eyed, especially women. Clements rarely looked at the witnesses during their testimonies, including Valerie.
On June 6, 2014, Valerie said she was watching the local news when she heard a body had been found in the desert.
“We didn’t know where Maribel was,” said Valerie. “It was the nighttime. I got home from looking for her that day. I put the news on and I see that they found a body … then I see the tattoo. I didn’t want to believe it was her.”
Maribel had a butterfly tattoo on her collarbone. Valerie said she fell to the floor. She called her parents and told them she believed Maribel had been found dead.
Days later, her worst fear was confirmed by law enforcement.
Valerie said she knew Maribel and Keyes were friends and said it wasn’t unusual for Maribel to be around older people, including men.
Valerie said the night Maribel left, she was mad about a joyriding incident involving Maribel and a friend. While she had a “few words with Maribel,” she said her daughter did not storm out that night.
Valerie also said Maribel wasn’t acting strange before she went missing and that “nothing was out of the ordinary.”
Maribel and Valerie were both excited about living in the apartment together, according to Valerie.
“We were happy to be in our own little place,” she sobbed. “She was happy I was home. [She was] trying to be my little nurse, helping me get better.”
The state then called Victoria Calonge, Maribel’s grandmother, to the stand.
Victoria said Maribel didn’t know anyone who lives in the Avra Valley area.
She said Valerie’s hospitalization was difficult on Maribel, adding she started missing school more.
On June 3, 2014, Victoria said she went shopping with Maribel and Valerie in the afternoon. She said Maribel was excited to try on the clothing they bought her. Victoria estimates they arrived at Valerie’s home between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Victoria says she had no idea Maribel had plans to meet friends later that night. Victoria remembers Valerie calling her the next day to tell her Maribel was missing.
When questioned by the defense, Victoria said she was aware Maribel was friends with Keyes. She also admitted to dropping her off at his apartment on one occasion. Victoria said she wasn’t happy about Maribel befriending older guys but said Maribel “always made friends with everybody.”
Victoria also told the prosecution Maribel never told her she was afraid of anyone.
The last witness to take the stand Wednesday was Melissa Stark, a former girlfriend of Christopher Clements.
Melissa told the prosecution she met Clements at Park Place Mall when he came into a store she was working at. In June 2012, the two started dating. Stark says they moved in together in mid-2013.
On May 17, 2014, Stark gave birth to their child. Stark claims they were no longer in a relationship, but lived together for the sake of their son.
Stark recalls two friends visiting them from the end of May to the beginning of June.
On June 3, 2014, Stark says she had a “huge argument” with Clements. Stark says she accused him of being interested in one of her friends.
Clements had cheated on Stark before with at least two women, according to Stark.
She claims Clements left their home, located blocks from where Maribel lived with her mother, around 8 p.m. on June 3.
Stark says he returned around midnight or 1 a.m., waking her from her sleep. She says Clements asked her where the bleach was. Stark says she showed him, but it wasn’t enough. She claims he left in her car and returned about 15 minutes later with a jug of bleach. Stark doesn’t remember what store he went to.
Clements asked Stark if she “looked in his trunk while he was gone,” according to her testimony. She replied “no.” Clements then reportedly left in his vehicle, a silver Acura.
Stark told the prosecution Clements came back sometime between 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. on June 4. She claims Clements asked her to wash all the clothing he was wearing, the shower curtain and anywhere he had walked in the house. Stark said he took a shower. She said there was no mud on his shoes, and she couldn’t remember washing them. Stark said she was almost finished scrubbing the floors when her friends woke up.
Stark claims she never asked Clements where he was that night because she was “too scared.”
She says she had made plans to show her friends around Tucson with Clements on June 4, but he ended up staying home. Stark claims Clements was “too tired” and spent the day sleeping instead.
Stark told the prosecution Clements had no friends in Avra Valley that she was aware of. She said Clements followed media coverage on Maribel’s death “closely” and claimed he seemed “pretty interested” in the case.
She confirmed pornographic images of little girls were on Clements’ iPad, but said she had no knowledge at the time because the folder was password protected.
Stark was also questioned about a letter Clements wrote her in the summer of 2017, where he referred to Maribel Gonzalez by name. Clements said a body was found on Trico Road and Avra Valley Road, but said he was “sure the case was unsolved.” He told Stark the body was found before he helped law enforcement in that area with the Isabel Celis case.
Clements also searched “trace evidence on body” online, according to prosecutors.
Stark claims Clements later asked her to convince her friends, who were visiting at the time of Maribel’s disappearance, to testify Clements “was home all night.”
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
- Opening statements delivered in Clements 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 went 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.
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.
Copyright 2022 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.