Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
After months of silence in one of Albuquerque’s most disturbing homicide cases, the district attorney announced Friday that much of what has been reported about the brutal rape and murder of 10-year-old Victoria Martens is “simply not true.”
DA Raúl Torrez said Victoria’s mother, Michelle Martens, 36, gave false admissions to police about what happened that night, and the public’s understanding of the case was “derived almost exclusively” from those statements.
In fact, neither she, nor her boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, 33, were at home at the time of Victoria’s August 2016 rape and slaying.
But Torrez said Gonzales’ cousin Jessica Kelley was, and so was at least one other person – a man who has not yet been identified.
In light of those findings – and after nearly two years in custody – Martens pleaded guilty early Friday afternoon to child abuse resulting in her daughter’s death, and prosecutors dismissed the most egregious charges against Gonzales, including murder and rape. And the state has filed a John Doe indictment against the unknown fourth person.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, Torrez announced that for the past year and a half, a team of prosecutors and investigators in his office have been analyzing DNA evidence, cellphone data and conducting numerous interviews with independent eye witnesses to reach the conclusion that Victoria was likely killed between 7 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., a time when Gonzales and Martens were determined to be at a house in the South Valley.
“I recognize that these revelations are not consistent with the public’s perception of what happened to Victoria Martens,” Torrez said. “But I want to share this information with you to help the community understand where this case is going and ultimately assist in the apprehension of everyone involved in this horrific crime.”
Torrez announced that at least one DNA profile belonging to an unidentified man was found on Victoria’s body. Based on that, Torrez’s office has filed a fourth indictment, charging John Doe with murder, rape, child abuse and several other charges.
The new evidence that came to light has not changed 33-year-old Kelley’s case, and she remains charged with murder. Her trial is set for early next year. Her attorney could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Torrez said shortly after he took office in January 2017, he ordered an intensive review of the Victoria Martens case in anticipation of a fast-approaching trial.
He said it wasn’t long before prosecutors and investigators realized that much of the evidence in the case directly contradicted Martens’ statements to police.
“With each new round of testing and each new piece of information, more and more doubt was cast on Michelle Martens’ direct involvement in the murder of her daughter Victoria,” he said. “And we were forced to consider the possibility that Michelle Martens had falsely incriminated herself and Fabian Gonzales in this heinous act.”
Following Friday’s court hearing, Martens’ attorney Gary Mitchell offered some explanation for the statements his client provided to police.
“Michelle doesn’t function at the same level most of us do,” Mitchell said. “She has spent her life saying things to please people. So if you ask her something, she’s going to respond in a way that she thinks that you like.”
Martens pleaded guilty early Friday afternoon to child abuse, recklessly caused, resulting in the death of a child under 12 during an abruptly scheduled hearing before state District Judge Charles Brown.
Prosecutor Greer Rose said during the hearing that Martens left her child with Kelley while she and Gonzales left to buy marijuana.
Rose said the girl was dead by the time the two returned to the family’s Northwest Albuquerque apartment just before 9 p.m. Aug. 23, 2016, and physical evidence showed she had been sexually assaulted.
In contrast, early police reports in the case alleged that Gonzales strangled the child and that Kelley stabbed her as Martens watched.
Rose said that when Martens and Gonzales returned to the apartment, Kelley was seen carrying Victoria, unresponsive, down a set of stairs. Witnesses said they saw her carry Victoria down the stairs outside the apartment, then back up into the unit.
Martens and Gonzales then reportedly ate tacos, had sex and did not check on the girl for the rest of the night.
“What it boiled down to was, basically, having a man in your life that you paid far too much attention to, to the detriment of your daughter,” Mitchell said. “And that happens in life, but tragically for Michelle and Victoria, it led to some really horrendous, nightmarish results.”
What happened in the interim is not clear, but when police arrived at the apartment around 4:30 the next morning, they found the child’s body on fire in the bathtub. Prosecutors believe her body was dismembered sometime after 8:45 p.m. but before midnight and they do not have any indication that Martens and Gonzales helped.
“While Martens was not home during the time of her daughter’s death, she did have ample warning that her daughter was in danger,” Rose said during the hearing Friday, adding that Kelley was high on meth that evening and had recently been released from prison.
Torrez agreed, saying that while Martens is not innocent, she is not a murderer.
“She did contribute to a situation that allowed her daughter to be killed, and she needs to be held accountable for that,” he said.
The developments in the case come just over a week before Martens was set for a three- to four-week trial on numerous charges. The plea agreement guarantees a 12- to 15-year sentence. Attorneys in the case agreed that Martens’ crime will not be classified as a serious violent offense, meaning she could see her sentence cut in half for good behavior.
Both Gonzales and Kelley remain on track for trials, in October and January respectively, and Martens could be required to testify. She will be sentenced after those trials take place.
Gonzales’ attorney Tom Clark said Friday that he is now preparing for a very different trial. The murder and sex-abuse charges have been dropped, and he still faces charges including child abuse resulting in death and tampering with evidence.
“Fabian has been publicly exonerated in that he’s no longer the horrible monster he was made out to be 23 months ago,” Clark said.
He said he appreciates the district attorney’s courage and willingness to do the “ethically and morally and legally right thing.”
Torrez said he feels that his office did the right thing.
“This gets into fundamentally the role of the prosecutor in the community,” he said. “It touches directly on our ethical obligation to hold everyone accountable for what they did, but to make sure we’re only pursuing cases and charging people for what they’ve committed.”