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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
It’s been two years and almost five months since one of the most high-profile and shocking crimes in Albuquerque’s recent history and the first trial is scheduled to begin this week.
On Aug. 24, 2016, officers called to a Northwest Albuquerque apartment walked into a horrific and chaotic scene – 10-year-old Victoria Martens dead, wrapped in a blanket, on fire, dismembered, in the bathtub of her mother’s home.
They quickly arrested the girl’s mother, Michelle Martens, Martens’ boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, and his cousin Jessica Kelley, charging them with a litany of crimes. All three were indicted for murder, child abuse, aggravated criminal sexual penetration and several counts of tampering with evidence.
Only Kelley still faces the most serious charges.
The rape charges against her were dismissed late Friday afternoon due to a lack of forensic evidence, but she still faces charges of murder and child abuse resulting in death.
Kelley’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday with the prosecution and the defense beginning “voir dire,” or the process of choosing 12 jurors and two alternates.
Out of a pool of 529 potential jurors, only 32 had no pre-existing knowledge of the case.
This worries Kelley’s defense attorneys, who say that if a potential juror is aware of some elements of the case, they should not serve on the jury.
“Ms. Kelley should not have the burden placed on her of overcoming the bias that comes with the juror possessing that information that never would have been released in the courtroom or the trial,” said Nicholas Hart, one of Kelley’s defense attorneys during a hearing last week. “The information that’s in the public is not the typical type of pretrial publicity.”
Jury selection is expected to take several days.
Judge Charles Brown has allocated five weeks for the trial. He also said at a hearing last week that he has not ruled out the possibility of the state and the defense reaching a plea deal and avoiding a trial all together.
The state’s theory of the case has changed dramatically since the crime was first reported.
Less than 24 hours after Victoria’s body was found, Albuquerque police announced they were charging her mother and the two other suspects with child abuse resulting in death, kidnapping and tampering with evidence, among other crimes. Gonzales and Kelley were also charged with criminal sexual penetration of a minor.
The sensational and gruesome details from Martens’s interview with detectives – that the suspects had given Victoria methamphetamine to calm her down, that Martens had watched her daughter’s rape for her own “sexual gratification,” that Martens had been finding other men to rape her daughter – quickly inflamed the public.
Lawmakers, and then-Gov. Susana Martinez, referenced the case when calling for the state to bring back the death penalty for certain crimes.
The day after news of the crime broke, hundreds of friends, neighbors, children and other mourners flooded the parking lot outside of the Martens’s Northwest Albuquerque apartment for a candlelight vigil. They piled balloons, stuffed animals and cards around a tree and sang “Amazing Grace” in her honor.
Days later, community members held a “heavenly birthday party” for the girl, who was killed the day she turned 10. Thousands gathered at Mariposa Basin Park, including Victoria’s grandparents and the then mayor and police chief.
Months later, in late October, a memorial service was held for the little girl.
Then-police chief Gorden Eden, then-Gov. Martinez and Attorney General Hector Balderas spoke at the two-hour event attended by hundreds.
The casket was strictly ceremonial since Victoria’s body had not been released by the Office of the Medical Investigator.
As defense attorneys began preparing for the three trials, the case largely faded from the public spotlight.
Then, last June, District Attorney Raúl Torrez announced a shocker – much of what the public thought they knew about the case was “simply not true.”
He said a team in his office made up of highly regarded prosecutors and APD detectives had been conducting an additional investigation and they had discovered that Martens and Gonzales were not at home when Victoria was killed.
And – they announced – an unidentified fourth suspect likely was there.
A forensic psychiatrist was prepared to testify that Martens’ statements to detectives in which she implicated herself and her boyfriend had been full of false admissions and had been “contaminated” by APD detectives and therefore could not be relied upon.
In late June, Martens, now 37, pleaded guilty to child abuse recklessly caused resulting in death. She has not yet been sentenced but faces between 12 and 15 years in prison with the possibility of that being cut in half due to good behavior. It is possible she could be called to testify at Kelley’s trial.
The most serious charges against Gonzales, now 34, were dismissed, but he still faces several counts of tampering with evidence as well as child abuse resulting in death. His trial was scheduled to begin in October, but was put on hold while the New Mexico Court of Appeals decides whether certain evidence should be permitted or suppressed.
Prosecutors have filed an indictment charging “John Doe” with murder, rape, child abuse and several other charges.
Late last month, the DA’s office said the APD officers assisting the prosecutors had returned to other cases, since the investigation into that suspect “had stalled.”
A new theory
In early September, prosecutors offered up a surprising new theory.
They had crafted a deal with Kelley and her attorney Mark Earnest in which she would receive 49 1/2 years in prison when she pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death.
Prosecutor Greer Rose announced that Kelley had told them she was high on methamphetamine and babysitting Victoria when an unknown man came to the apartment and asked for Gonzales. The stranger then went into the 10-year-old’s room and killed the little girl, she said.
Kelley said the stranger, whom she described as a well-dressed man, was retaliating against Gonzales for threats he had made against rival gang members.
Gonzales had been punched in the eye during a fight at Kelley’s prison homecoming barbecue a couple of days earlier, and prosecutors found numerous text messages on his phone alluding to a drive-by shooting and threatening the woman who had punched him, her children and her boyfriend.
Kelley said the man threatened her and her family if she and Gonzales didn’t “clean up the mess,” so the cousins hatched a plan to dispose of Victoria’s body after Martens went to bed.
Kelley was prepared to plead guilty to child abuse resulting in death for not stopping the man and for not protecting the girl she was taking care of.
But, in another surprising turn, Judge Charles Brown rejected the plea deal, saying there was not enough evidence that she was guilty of the crime she was admitting to.
In a hearing last week, he stated that it was not too late for prosecutors and the defense to craft another deal. But, as of now, the case will proceed to trial.
•Defendant Jessica Kelley
•Judge Charles Brown
•District Attorney Raúl Torrez
•Prosecutors Greer Rose and James Grayson
•Lead defense attorney Mark Earnest