DAY 10: Jury deliberations begin in Christopher Clements’ murder trial
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The jury began deliberating Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the trial of accused Tucson child killer 40-year-old Christopher 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 coverage are below.
WEEK THREE: WEDNESDAY’S TESTIMONY
The trial started back up Wednesday with the state calling rebuttal witness Det. Miguel Flores with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD).
Det. Flores was asked about a key piece of evidence in the trial -- anal swabs from Maribel’s body.
The defense asked Det. Flores about the procedures for shipping out the evidence to different labs for testing.
“When we first receive swabs from the medical’s office, we make sure they are properly stored at the right temperatures,” Det. Flores said.
To access or ship the evidence off, Det. Flores said he has to get written permission from a supervisor.
“We then put the swabs in bags with at least four pounds of dry ice,” he said. “We pack it down, so it does move.”
Det. Flores stepped down after a 10-minute testimony. Judge James Marner then addressed the jury.
The list below is the final list of instructions given to the jury.
- Determine the facts only from the evidence entered in court, including witness testimony. You should not guess about the facts, and you must not be influenced by any prejudice.
- An indictment is not evidence. The charges are not evidence against the defendant.
- First-degree premeditated murder means the defendant caused the death of a person. It means he intended to kill another human being and reflected on the killing before doing so [acting with premeditation]. The space of time between thinking about killing someone and killing them can be very short, Judge Marner said. Felony murder is the intentional or accidental death of a person committing a violent crime.
- You must unanimously agree the state has proved without a reasonable doubt the defendant kidnapped and killed Maribel Gonzalez for a guilty verdict.
- You do not have to agree if it was premeditated or felony murder.
- On the charge of kidnapping, you must firmly believe the defendant restrained another person or restricted another person’s movement without their consent to find the defendant guilty. This could be by physical force or intimidation, the judge said.
- “Knew or knowingly” means the defendant acted intentionally, not that he knew it was forbidden by law.
- The defendant does not need to prove his innocence.
- The state is burdened with proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In criminal cases, such as this, the state’s proof must be powerful. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt leaves you firmly convinced in the defendant’s guilt.
- If you are firmly convinced the defendant is guilty, you must find him “guilty.” If not, you must determine he is “not guilty.”
- If an objection was sustained in court, you must not consider it as evidence.
- If evidence was stricken from the record, you must not consider it as evidence.
- The lawyers are permitted to stipulate certain facts exist. You are to treat the stipulations as other evidence and either accept or disregard them as facts.
- Do not concern yourself with anything that has been precluded from the trial.
- Direct evidence is witness testimony. Circumstantial evidence is a list of facts, which you can determine the importance of.
- You should consider what testimony to accept, including the factors of the person’s ability to hear and see the things they testified to, the manner they testified, whether they were contradicted, had motive, and how that witness’s testimony adds up against other evidence.
- The testimony of law enforcement is not greater or lesser than any other testimony. Consider a police officer just as you would other witnesses.
- A witness that is qualified as an expert should be judged the same as any other testimony. You are not bound by their facts, so give their testimony as much or little weight you think it deserves.
- The medical examiner’s determination is not a comment on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
- The defendant is not required to testify. The decision not to testify should not impact your decision in any way.
- You must not consider any statement the defendant made to law enforcement unless you believe he was offering that information voluntarily. You must give such weight to his comments as you think they deserve.
- You may consider a witness being convicted of an offense only if you think it impacts their believability.
- The testimony of photos [of child erotica] are “other acts” evidence.”You must consider them only if you believe the state has proved the defendant’s guilt in those acts, and to establish the motive and/or opportunity.
- You may find that the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt all, some, or none of the counts. A separate verdict must be given for each count.
- The state has the burden of proving the defendant was present at the time or place the alleged crime was committed.
- When you go to the jury room, you must choose a foreperson. But that juror’s opinion is not worth more than anyone else’s. The foreperson is a moderator who will also count the votes. When you return to the courtroom, the foreperson will be asked if a verdict is reached. That person will not read the verdict, though.
- You are not to discuss the case with any other person during breaks or when not in the jury room.
- Should any of you have a question, please use the jury question form. It must be communicated in writing and be signed. It will be answered in writing.
- You are not to tell anyone where you stand, outside of the jury room, until a verdict has been unanimously reached.
After a lunch break, the case resumed with closing arguments. The jury was then handed the case and deliberations began late Wednesday afternoon. The jury did not come back with a verdict, so deliberations will continue Thursday.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Tracy Miller brought up a photo of Maribel to show the courtroom.
“There is no way that [Maribel’s mother] Valerie Calonge could have known that when her 13-year-old daughter walked out of their apartment on June 3, 2014, she was never coming home,” Miller said. “It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the fact that there was someone who would abduct a 13-year-old and kill her. The state has spent the last three weeks presenting evidence so you could know exactly who that someone was -- Christopher Clements.”
Miller said whoever killed Maribel had an “attraction to little girls.” Digital experts have testified that hundreds of photos of young girls, some of which were taken in Tucson, were found on Clements’ electronic devices. Some of those pictures were also shown in court.
“What we know is Clements got into a fight with his girlfriend and he left his home,” Miller said. “We know Maribel left her home around the same time. We know that Thomas Keyes responded, so he knew to expect her. But what we also know is that Maribel never made it. We know that this defendant left his home and traveled south. We know that because of cellphone data. We know Maribel was heading north. While the state can’t tell you exactly how he kidnapped and killed her, we can tell you she ended up in the trunk of his car and then out in the desert.”
Miller said while Maribel was friendly, she wouldn’t have just gone with anyone. She said Clements was 6-foot-1, 225-pounds and Maribel was just 5-feet tall and 90 pounds.
“She didn’t have a fighting chance,” Miller said.
Miller said after Maribel went missing, Clements was listening to police scanner traffic through an app on his phone.
“We know he was monitoring police traffic,” said Miller. “Why? To see if anyone had reported Maribel missing. To see if anyone saw him abduct her.”
Miller said Clements was gone most of the night, then came back home and asked his girlfriend for bleach.
“He takes [his girlfriend’s] car, goes to the store and comes back with more bleach,” Miller said. “But what does he ask her before he leaves? ‘Did you look in my trunk?’ Then, he is gone all night long.”
According to cell records, Clements then traveled along Interstate 10 and remained in a remote area for several hours.
“The area of Avra Valley and Trico [where Maribel’s body was found],” said Miller. “For two hours driving around trying to figure out what he was going to do with Maribel’s body in his trunk. He then accesses 5-0 Radio. What does he do next? He turns his phone off until 6:43 a.m.”
Miller said the state’s experts proved the driving pattern that morning was “unusual” for Clements.
“The time his phone goes dark gives him plenty of time to dispose of Maribel’s body,” she said. “He has plenty of time to get rid of her clothes, shoes, clean out his car and get rid of any trace evidence that ties him to her murder.”
When Clements returned home he allegedly told his girlfriend, who had just given birth to his child, to clean the floors where he walked, the clothes he was wearing and the shower curtain.
“She does that,” said Miller. “She doesn’t ask him where he has been because she’s scared.”
On June 6, 2014, a bus driver noticed drag marks near Trico Road going off into the distance. The witness followed the tracks to a mesquite tree and said about a dozen vultures flew away when she approached. She testified she saw red hair sticking out below a tire. The witness said she decided to flip the tire over and that is when she discovered the naked body of the missing teen.
“Then we have what this defendant wants to do on June 5,” said Miller. “He makes sure everyone knows he went to Phoenix, so he has an alibi. Again, the cellphone matches the testimony [of Clements spending June 5 in Phoenix]. So, you can also believe his phone was in the Avra Valley area on June 4.”
Miller pointed out Clements’ match to a partial DNA profile obtained from Maribel’s body. She said there was no mismatch on any of the 18 DNA markers, whereas the other suspects can be excluded.
“You can consider Clements’ own statements to police,” said Miller. “His denial, his demeanor. Within the first few minutes, he starts asking them if he is being investigated. With more pressing, he says he thinks the name is familiar. When asked where her body was found, he says ‘how would I know?’ But yet, on March 13, 2017, he was right there [showing investigators] where her body was found.”
Clements liked to draw smiley faces in blood and two letters, from May and June of 2017, were tested and shown to be his, Miller said. In those letters, Clements referenced Maribel Gonzalez by name and the area her body was recovered.
Clements also searched Maribel Gonzalez, Maribel Victoria, Maribel Victoria Gonzalez, Valerie Calonge, body found in desert, trace evidence on body and East Lawn Cemetery hours, according to expert testimony from the state.
“It is not a coincidence that all these pieces to the puzzle point to Christopher Clements,” said Miller. “I can’t tell you why he took her and killed her. What we have proven to you is that he is guilty of kidnap and first-degree murder, and we are going to ask you find him guilty on both counts.”
During the defense’s closing arguments, attorney Joseph DiRoberto thanked the jurors for taking their duties seriously.
“I can tell based on the number of questions you are asking,” he said. “I would like you to consider the jury instructions through the prism of reasonable doubt. I would like you to consider whether there are any other events that could have happened, other than what the state claims.”
DiRoberto said many questions remain unanswered.
“Maribel went missing that night and was found miles away,” said DiRoberto. “Who was the last known person to be with Maribel? When did Maribel go missing? Do we know when she actually left the apartment? Who was with her when she went missing? How did Maribel get to that rural location after she went missing? Was she alive or deceased? Was she taken against her will? How did Maribel die? Was it an accident or self-inflicted due to a bad decision? The state has offered zero evidence regarding these questions.”
DiRoberto argued the prosecution did not establish a connection between Clements and Maribel, as no eyewitness saw the two together the night she disappeared, and no evidence suggested the two had contact before her death.
“There are an infinite number of possibilities that could have happened,” said DiRoberto, “meaning Clements could have had nothing to do with her death.”
DiRoberto claimed Maribel was “living in the fast lane,” and had been in contact with other men the night of her disappearance.
He pointed to testimony from Maribel’s mother and grandmother who both said she was a fighter.
“She was street smart,” said DiRoberto. “If someone was going to do something to her, she would have fought back. But there are no signs of injury to her.”
DiRoberto brought up Dr. Rebecca Hsu’s testimony for the defense.
“Dr. Hsu said her opinion was the cause of death was ‘undetermined,’” said DiRoberto.”If the state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Maribel was killed, how is it possible prosecutors can prove Mr. Clements caused her death? How can he be convicted?”
While Clements matched the partial DNA profile, DiRoberto said Clements may have been excluded if a full Y-STR profile was obtained.
“And even if Clements was a match in all 23 areas, that does not identify him,” continued DiRoberto. “All related males and even unrelated males could have the same profile.”
DiRoberto said everyone who processed Maribel’s recovery site should have had their DNA tested to rule out contamination.
He then took aim at the testimony from Clements’ ex-girlfriend, Melissa Stark.
“You may consider her two felonies while evaluating her testimony,” said DiRoberto. “You may accept everything a witness says, part of it, or none of it. Melissa comes forward in July of 2020 after being with Mr. Clements for six years. Now she is this fountain of information of Mr. Clements’ activity on June 3, 2014. Consider that she just had a baby [in June of 2014] and says she was on her hands and knees cleaning. It’s your call whether you are going to believe Melissa Stark’s outrages statements.”
DiRoberto called the state’s evidence “thin” and “nonexistent.”
“Assume that you were to learn - after having received all the evidence - that there was a complete videotape involving Maribel,” DiRoberto told the jury. “If you think you would really like to see that videotape before convicting Mr. Clements, I would suggest you have a reasonable doubt. If you think, ‘don’t bother,’ only then would I suggest you don’t have a reasonable doubt. This decision is going to impact Clements for the rest of his life.”
- 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
- State rests case in Clements murder trial
- Defense calls first witness in trial
- Defense rests case by calling only three witnesses
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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