ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A District Court judge on Tuesday ruled that the three defendants charged in Victoria Martens' rape and murder will each be tried separately.
And each trial will be held in Bernalillo County, despite a request by the defense to relocate the trials, citing “extensive and severe” media coverage of the case.
Charged in the case are Michelle Martens, the girl's mother; Fabian Gonzales, her boyfriend; and Jessica Kelley, his cousin.
Judge Charles Brown said that although the trials will be severed, the three cases will continue to be handled together, at least until a final motion hearing in August. At some point after that, the court will determine which order the defendants should be tried in, and separate trial dates will be set.
The state last week asked to separate the trials and all three defense attorneys agreed that was best. But defense attorneys asked Brown to allow hearings leading up to trial to take place together. The three, so far, have been able to share the workload and costs of an incredibly complex case.
“I hate to be talking about money when it comes to representation of a criminal case,” Gary Mitchell, Martens' attorney, said, “but frankly we don't have any choice.”
Prosecutor Greer Rose said she believed handling pre-trial matters together was the “best use of judicial resources.”
As he denied “at this time” a defense request for a change of venue, Brown said the court has been able to find impartial local juries in many high-profile cases and he was confident it could be done in this case, too.
“But if we can't get a jury here,” he said, “we'll go somewhere where we can.”
Defense attorneys filed a motion Friday asking the court to hold the trials in another county, arguing that “media coverage of this case has been extensive and severe.” Each submitted a separate affidavit arguing that their client cannot receive a fair trial in Bernalillo County.
Public sympathy for Victoria, they wrote, combined with the “prevalence of memorial events” and public outrage over her death “would exert pressure on a Bernalillo County jury to convict.”
Also at Tuesday's hearing, attorneys suggested that the case is so complex that meeting strict deadlines required under a local case management order might be impossible. The first trial in the case is supposed to begin in early October, but one defense attorney suggested a fall 2018 trial date was more realistic.
“I think there's no way counsel can be ready to try any of these cases in an effective manner within the limitations of this rule,” Mark Earnest, Kelley's attorney, said.
Prosecutors agreed that it will be difficult to meet set deadlines. Brown said all he could do was push a late summer motion hearing back by a month.
“The normal deadlines,” Brown said, “just can't fit this case.”