DAY 9: Defense calls final witnesses in Christopher Clements’ murder trial, rests case

DAY 9: Defense calls final witnesses in Christopher Clements’ murder trial, rests case
Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 10:47 AM MST|Updated: Sep. 27, 2022 at 10:48 AM MST
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UCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The trial of accused Tucson child killer 40-year-old Christopher Clements continued Tuesday, Sept. 27, with the defense calling its final two expert witnesses.

The defense rested its case around 3:30 p.m.

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 coverage are below.

Investigators say 6-year-old Isabel Celis (left) vanished from her parents’ Tucson home in 2012...
Investigators say 6-year-old Isabel Celis (left) vanished from her parents’ Tucson home in 2012 while Maribel Gonzales (right) disappeared while walking to a friend’s house two years later.(Arizona's Family)

WEEK THREE: TUESDAY’S TESTIMONY

On Tuesday, the defense called its final two witnesses.

Dr. Michael Spence is an independent forensic DNA consultant who was hired by the defense to look over the reports from DNA Labs International. That’s where samples from Maribel Gonzalez’ body were sent in 2014.

Dr. Spence believes an anal swab should have been tested right away. Looking at the lab reports, he said there was a “13 to 1 ratio” of female to male DNA. After receiving approval from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD), the anal swab was tested in 2016. However, the male DNA had been lost.

With a 4cm pubic hair, Dr. Spence said there was a “100 to 1″ female to male DNA ratio. A partial profile was obtained from this sample.

“It’s very rare to see a hair root that gives a mixture of DNA,” Dr. Spence said.

Dr. Spence testified the word “match” can’t be used. While Clements did match 18 of the 23 areas where DNA data could be extracted, Dr. Spence claims Y-STR testing is only used to exclude suspects. That’s because every male relative could have the same Y profile, and so could some unrelated males too.

Dr. Spence believes everyone who processed Maribel’s recovery site should have been tested and compared to the partial DNA profile to rule out possible contamination.

No seminal fluid was found on any of the samples, Dr. Spence said.

During the cross exaimination, prosecuter Tracy Miller, grilled Dr. Spence.

“You haven’t worked in a lab since 2007,” said Miller.

“That’s right,” Dr. Spence replied.

“You worked with the Indiana State Police from 2003 to 2007?” she asked.

“Yes,” Dr. Spence said.

“And you have only testified for the defense and never prosecution?” Miller asked.

“I got my first call from a prosecutor last week,” Dr. Spence said.

“And you charge for your work and testimony?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “My hourly rate is $300, and $150 [an hour] for travel.”

“You have never worked as a homicide detective?” asked Miller.

“No, I have never been on a crime scene,” he said.

Miller also pointed out mathematical inaccuracies in Dr. Spence’s testimony.

The defense then called on Karl Epps, a digital forensic examiner in Arizona.

Epps said he was asked by the defense to analyze cell tower information from Clements’ phone. He was emailed the AT&T call detail records, Epps said.

During his testimony, Epps focused on June 4, 2014, from just after midnight to 2:30 a.m.

He showed a few maps in court. The maps were of the Tucson metro with several pink triangles plotted. The triangles represented the cell towers Clements’ phone connected to, according to Epps.

The first data connection was just after midnight at a tower near Clements’ home.

At 12:15 a.m., Clements’ device connected to towers near the freeway, Epps said. The device is seen moving in northwest direction until 12:28 a.m.

“One idea is that it’s moving up along the I-10,” Epps said.

Clements’ phone is then seen toggling between a few cell towers, including the Marana, Avra Valley, and Picacho Peak towers until 2:27 a.m. That’s when it was likely powered off. It re-appeares in Tucson at 6:43 a.m.

Epps said the data available to him was not enough to include or exclude the area Maribel’s body was recovered.

“I agree the device didn’t just stop in the middle of the freeway,” said Epps. “But there are more options; he could have exited I-10 and gone to the bathroom, had a flat tire, we don’t know.”

During a jury break, Judge James Marner asked Christopher Clements if he wanted to testify.

“You have the absolute right to testify, and you have the absolute right not to testify,” said Judge Marner. “You would be subject to cross examination. You can’t just come and answer questions from your own side. If you choose not to testify, the jury cannot prejudice you in any way. Counsel, what does your client want to do?”

“Not testify, your Honor,” said defense attorney Joseph DiRoberto.

Once the defense rested, the state called a rebuttal witness back to the stand.

Sy Ray, the director of LexisNexis and creator of ZetX, said Clements’ phone was located west of the I-10 between 12:30 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. on June 4. He testified it is possible Clements’ phone was located at Maribel’s recovery site.

Ray said his mapping system is used daily by law enforcement, including federal agents. He claimed ZetX is 94% to 96% accurate, depending on the location.

During the trial, the state called 24 witnesses and the defense called 3.

The state’s plans to call another witness for a rebuttal on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Detective Miguel Flores is expected to take the stand again.

The state and defense should move into closing arguments Wednesday afternoon.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

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.

KOLD News Presents "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.