Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Prosecutors say they have obtained DNA samples from 16 men as they seek to identify a fourth suspect in the Victoria Martens murder case.
Five of those persons of interest have been eliminated, results for 11 are outstanding, and there may be more to come.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez said there is no evidence that the girl’s mother, Michelle Martens, was involved in Victoria’s death or dismemberment, or knew the identity of the fourth suspect police are now seeking.
But he said he hopes she will offer useful information now that she has accepted a plea deal that requires her to provide statements to authorities.
“She may know who this individual is and not know that this individual (was involved in the crime),” Torrez said. “She may know who this individual is because he was there previously.”
What prosecutors hope they won’t have to do, he said, is make a deal with Jessica Kelley, the last of the original trio still facing rape and murder charges, in order to track down that unidentified man.
“We are not prepared to do that yet,” Torrez said. “And my hope is that we are not ever presented with that choice.”
In an interview Thursday with Journal editors and reporters, Torrez, along with lead prosecutor Greer Rose, shared additional details on a case turned on its head late last week when it was revealed that neither Martens nor her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales were in the apartment when the child was killed Aug. 23, 2016.
On Friday, prosecutors dropped charges of rape and murder against Martens and Gonzales.
Rose said in court that Gonzales and Martens left the home around 7 p.m. and returned just before 9 p.m., and the state believes that Victoria was killed while the two were out. It’s unclear what happened after they returned, but when police were dispatched to the apartment around 4:30 the next morning, the child’s body was dismembered and burning in a bathtub.
Early police documents in the case reported that Martens said she watched as Gonzales strangled the girl and Kelley stabbed her. But Torrez said in a news conference last Friday that the public’s understanding of the case was derived mainly from Martens’ statements to police, which turned out to be largely untrue. He said Thursday that new leads have come in in the days since then.
Torrez’s announcement came immediately after Martens pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death under an agreement that requires her testimony in any related trials and guarantees her a 12- to 15-year prison sentence.
That’s when prosecutors also dismissed rape and murder charges against Gonzales, though he is still accused of child abuse and tampering with evidence.
According to an amendment to Gonzales’ indictment filed last week, Gonzales tampered with evidence when he allegedly “removed V.M.’s arms from her body,” “hid and/or placed and/or wrapped organs,” among other things.
Torrez said he could not comment on the evidence that supports the charges set forth in the indictment, but he did say there is no evidence that Martens was involved in that process.
Torrez also announced last week that a fourth indictment had been filed, this one against a “John Doe” whose DNA would match the partial DNA sample collected from Victoria’s back.
On Thursday, Torrez and Rose said the partial DNA profile, which belongs to a man and likely came from skin cells, sweat or saliva, cannot be compared to samples in the federal Combined DNA Index System. That means investigators must gather swabs from each person of interest in order to rule him out as a suspect.
Torrez said a review of the cases against Martens, Gonzales and Kelley when he took office in January 2017 raised concerns, and he tasked Rose, an experienced prosecutor, with leading an investigation. Rose, another prosecutor, a paralegal and two APD detectives are now assigned to the case.
Meanwhile, Torrez also said the results from Victoria’s autopsy that showed she had human papillomavirus, or HPV, proved she was sexually assaulted at some point prior to her murder. The assault would have occurred weeks or even months prior to her death, he said.
Last week, he said that Martens had immediately told authorities about an earlier “sexual encounter,” but on Thursday, he clarified that the incident he was referring to was an attempted kiss that has been widely reported. “That’s the only inappropriate contact that we knew of,” he said.
He said his office is not investigating the assault that caused her to contract HPV, but is focusing on the crimes that occurred on the night of her death.
If an investigation were to take place, it would be done by APD.
The police department did not immediately respond to questions asking whether any possible previous sexual assaults against Victoria are under investigation.
Torrez reiterated that there is no evidence that Martens was trafficking her daughter for sex.