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Judge rejects guilty plea in Victoria Martens case

Jessica Kelley enters court on Friday for a hearing. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Jessica Kelley told a state District Court judge she was high on methamphetamine when a man she had never seen before walked into the Martens family’s apartment looking for her cousin, Fabian Gonzales.

A defense attorney hinted that the man – who has not been identified – may have been retaliating against Gonzales for something when he arrived at the home, and ultimately killed 10-year-old Victoria Martens.

District Court Judge Charles Brown hears a plea deal for Jessica Kelley on Friday afternoon.

The revelations came at a hearing Friday, during which Kelley had been expected to plead guilty to reckless child abuse resulting in death and lesser charges. But in an unexpected and unusual turn of events, Judge Charles Brown rejected her plea deal, finding there was insufficient evidence that Kelley was guilty of the most egregious crime she was set to admit to.

“There is no indication she knew or should have known that the person intended to commit intentional murder,” Brown said.

Kelley had been watching the 10-year-old while Michelle Martens, Victoria’s mother, and Gonzales, were away from the home.

Jessica Kelley is escorted out of the courtroom after District Judge Charles Brown rejected a plea deal Friday afternoon. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The rejected agreement required Kelley to testify at related trials and to provide statements to authorities, and she faced 49½ years in prison.

The Bernalillo County district attorney says Kelley’s cooperation was “critically important” to the state’s investigation into the unidentified person, and its prosecution of Gonzales, who is set for trial next month.

“I think what happened today is certainly going to impact our ability to move forward with that case in October, but more importantly, and I think from my perspective, the thing I’m most focused on and interested in, is trying to identify and eventually prosecute the other individual that we have yet to identify,” DA Raúl Torrez said. “Securing this plea agreement was a critical first step in that.”

A spokesman for the DA’s Office said Friday evening that prosecutors had joined with Kelley’s defense team to draft a joint motion asking Brown to reconsider his decision.

The hearing comes months after the state announced that much of their initial understanding of the case was “simply not true,” since it had been derived from false statements Martens provided to police.

Second Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez during a press conference following District Court Judge Charles Brown’s rejection of Jessica Kelley’s plea deal Friday afternoon.

Initial reports alleged that Kelley stabbed the child, Gonzales strangled her and Martens watched. But the state later discovered that neither Martens nor Gonzales was home at the time of Victoria’s death, and they offered a plea deal to Martens and dismissed several of Gonzales’ charges.

Rather than allowing prosecutors to read a statement outlining their allegations against Kelley, Brown questioned Kelley.

“What happened that makes you guilty of recklessly causing or permitting something that resulted in the death of a child?” he asked.

Kelley said she “let an unknown male come in, not knowing he was going to kill Victoria Martens.”

She said she had no indication he intended to hurt anyone and thought the man might have been Victoria’s father or a “friend of the family.” She even directed him to the room where the child was sleeping.

“He did not look like a bad person, he was dressed well and he walked in like he knew the home,” she said.

But prosecutor James Grayson argued that Kelley, who had been hallucinating and experiencing paranoid delusions that day, was aware that she was too intoxicated to care for the girl, and because of her intoxication was not able to assess the risk the unidentified man posed. He said Kelley “engaged in conduct that showed reckless disregard for the safety or health of the child.”

“You’re asking if Ms. Kelley is somehow a mind reader,” Brown said. He said the drug use was not the relevant issue.

In an 18-page document filed in Gonzales’ case Friday, prosecutors detailed the days and moments leading up to and following Victoria’s murder, and they provide more information on the fourth suspect.

After killing Victoria, prosecutors said, the man told Kelley that Gonzales had messed up and “knew he had done so.”

He told Kelley that she and Gonzales needed to clean up the mess or she and her kids would be next.

Both Kelley and Gonzales are accused of cutting up the child’s body. When police arrived, her body was smoldering in a bathtub. Both are charged with tampering with evidence.

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