DAY 7: State rests case in Christopher Clements murder trial
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The trial of accused Tucson child killer 40-year-old Christopher Clements continued Thursday, Sept. 22.
A juror was removed, a motion by the defense was denied, and the state rested its case on day 7 of the high-profile murder trial.
In total, the state called on 24 witnesses to build its case against Clements.
Clements is facing several charges for allegedly kidnapping and killing 6-year-old Isabel Celis in 2012 and 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez in 2014.
The current trial is for Maribel’s death, while Clements will face a jury for Isabel’s death next year.
The trial started two weeks ago with jury selections but kicked into high gear last week with opening statements and witness testimony. Links to our previous stories are below.
WEEK TWO: THURSDAY TESTIMONY
On Thursday, the day got started with Judge James Marner formally excusing juror 9. Judge Marner said the juror was feeling “under the weather,” but was not displaying symptoms of COVID-19. That leaves 8 women and 7 men, including 3 alternates.
The 21st witness to testify for the state was Adriana Nunez, a Tucson mother whose daughter was potentially photographed by Clements in 2013.
Nunez said detectives told her Clements had a photo of her 5-year-old daughter on one of his electronic devices. She said she did not take the photos and does not remember any family members taking them either.
Nunez teared up while looking at the pictures of her daughter, saying she didn’t have “the slightest idea” why [Clements] had the photos.
Next to testify was Corina Rivera, who said she dated Clements in 2012.
Rivera was shown a photo of herself that was found on Clements’ device. She said she doesn’t remember ever sending the photo to him, even though the two had a brief intimate relationship.
Vanessa Gregory, the 23rd witness for the state, was one of the children who appeared in photos found on one of Clements’ devices.
Gregory estimates she was 10 years old when the pictures of her were taken in 2013.
She said the photos were taken outside of her apartment complex, and she has no idea who took the photos.
“My mother would not have me on social media looking like that,” Gregory added.
Gregory said she had never seen Clements before being shown a headshot by detectives.
Before the state rested, the prosecution called its final witness Detective Josh Cheek with the Tucson Police Department (TPD) to the stand.
Det. Cheek said he investigated some of the images derived from Clements’ computers.
Among the photographs were a series of pictures of little girls, Det. Cheek said. Some of them appeared to have been taken in residential yards and out in public locations. In some of the photos, it appeared there was possible interaction between the girls and the photographer, according to Det. Cheek.
Det. Cheek worked to track down the children in the photos and their families. While he was able to locate some of the children, others have yet to be identified.
According to previous expert testimony, more than 1,200 photos were stored in a password-protected folder on Clements iPad. The images saved were of women and young girls, according to digital forensic examiner Russell Blaylock. Photos of children playing at the beach, on the playground and in bathtubs were recovered. Blaylock testified some of the girls were wearing little clothing or none. On another iPad, the “My Secret” app revealed nearly 200 images. Photos were first uploaded in August of 2013, Blaylock said. They were of young children, mostly girls, taken at different locations in Tucson.
After the jury was dismissed on Thursday, the defense filed a motion to have Clements acquitted on the kidnapping and first-degree murder charges.
“Maribel and Mr. Clements did not know each other,” said defense attorney Joseph DiRoberto. “Maribel’s mother and grandmother said she was strong and willing to fight. Maribel would have fought back and would have sustained injury. There’s a complete void of substantial evidence that Mr. Clements kidnapped and killed Maribel.”
DiRoberto also argued Maribel’s autopsy did not determine a specific cause of death.
“She was only 13 when she was found dead,” argued counsel for the state Chris Ward. “Maribel was found 30 miles from her home. There was a trail of drag marks leading to her body’s location, two tires were found on her. The circumstances are consistent with homicide and not at all with a natural death. Maribel was in good health, according to testimony from her mother and grandmother.”
Ward said the state simply must prove the defendant caused the death of the victim “in some way.”
“The level of decomposition suggests she was killed on June 3 or 4 [in 2014],” said Ward. “The removal of her clothes and absence of her personal effects is proof the defendant tried to conceal her death. The medical examiner has shown Clements’ DNA cannot be excluded. [Clements former girlfriend] Melissa Stark and her guests testified Clements took his car on June 3 and was gone that night. Stark said Clements returned at midnight and asked whether she had bleach or had looked in his trunk, suggesting that he didn’t want her to look in the car where Maribel would have been. He then traveled up I-10 to the Avra Valley area where he remained for about two hours. He closed the police scanner at 11:51 p.m., which would suggest he was trying to determine if law enforcement was in the area. There’s no activity when he turns off his phone at 2:27 a.m. to 6:43 a.m. The tracking expert testified that was ‘unusual for the device.’”
DiRoberto then called Stark’s testimony into question.
“Melissa Stark has two prior felony convictions,” said DiRoberto. “Her testimony was bordering on ‘ridiculous’ when compared to Tonya and Vicki’s testimony. According to them, Clements had an argument with Ms. Stark, and he returned the next day at 10 a.m. There’s nothing to prove he came back at midnight and asked Ms. Stark to clean. The kicker here is that she then claimed in their presence, she was on the floor scrubbing the floor with bleach! Both of these women would have certainly remembered if that were the case; that this woman who just had a baby was scrubbing the floors. I think the court should discount her testimony in its entirety. She has a motive; she hates Mr. Clements so much that she would fabricate a story just to make the state’s case.”
When considering the motion, Judge Marner said he must weigh the evidence in which a reasonable person can conclude the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Judge Marner sided with the state and denied the motion of acquittal.
“In this case of felony murder and kidnapping, a reasonable jury could conclude text messages show Maribel was going to a specific location to meet a specific person,” said Judge Marner. “The path she would have been taking would have gone past the defendant’s home. The cellphone evidence showed Clements driving around the area where Maribel was last seen. There’s indication he was using the 5-0 Radio app, which is a police monitor. I think the jury could also find evidence that he reached out to his girlfriend Sarah Bainter that night Maribel went missing significant. Perhaps the defendant was in the mood to have sexual relations.”
Clements apparent attraction to young girls is also significant evidence, the judge said.
“The fact that Clements was in the area her body was found, the fact her body was naked and one of the crime scene pictures showed her barefoot means she did not walk to the area,” continued Judge Marner. “I am not making credibility judgements on Stark’s testimony because that’s not my job. The decomposition shows Maribel likely would have been killed the night she went missing. She was by all accounts a healthy teenage girl. Dr. Chen said manual strangulation could have occurred. What Dr. Chen did rule out was what didn’t cause Maribel’s death. It wasn’t natural, it wasn’t suicide, it wasn’t an overdose. A reasonable jury could draw the conclusion that she was manually strangled. The letters Clements sent to Ms. Stark, the knowledge of the recovery site, his research regarding trace evidence is significant as well. So was searching the visiting hours for East Lawn where Maribel is buried. I think it’s all significant enough for the jury to find guilt in kidnapping and murder. While I do find pre-meditation [a closer call], at this point I am going to side in the state’s favor.”
Friday morning, the defense will call its first witness Dr. Rebecca Hsu to the stand.
- 6-year-old Isabel Celis goes missing from family’s Tucson home
- Psychic weighs in on disappearance of Celis
- 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 GonzaleZ’ father talks after body found in desert
- Friends react to Maribel Gonzalez’s suspicious death
- Police: Maribel Gonzalez was murdered
- Deeply saddened but not broken, murder victims’ families speak out
- Christopher Clements indicted in deaths of Isabel Celis and Maribel Gonzalez
- Documents reveal chilling details into Isabel Celis, Maribel Gonzalez investigation
- Murder suspect Christopher Clements had multiple run-ins with Tucson police
- Clements pleads not guilty in deaths of Isabel Celis, Maribel Gonzalez
- 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 Gonzalez remembers her on graduation day
- State will not seek death penalty for man accused of killing Isabel Celis, Maribel Gonzalez
- 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
- Victim’s mother takes stand in Clements’ trial
- Former girlfriend of accused child killer continues testimony
- Clements’ phone shows “unusual activity” night Maribel Gonzalez disappeared
- DNA expert said Clements cannot be excluded as a suspect
- Search of Christopher Clements’ computers revealed hundreds of child erotica images, photos taken of young girls around Tucson
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.
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 Celis and Maribel Gonzalez. 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 GONZALEZ TIMELINE
- June 3, 2014: Maribel Gonzalez leaves home to walk and visit a friend.
- June 4, 2014: Gonzalez 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 Gonzalez.
- Sept. 15, 2018: Authorities announce the indictment of Christopher Matthew Clements in Maribel’s death.
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