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Jurors in the child death trial of Fabian Gonzales will board a bus and make a “site visit” to the apartment where 10-year-old Victoria Martens was killed in 2016, according to details discussed Wednesday by a judge.
Attorneys and court officials will travel by van with the bus under the escort of Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies, who will block streets and travel ahead and behind the entourage, 2nd Judicial District Judge Cindy Leos said during a hearing.
Leos also told attorneys she had concerns that the court might have trouble seating a jury in the gruesome and widely publicized case. She based her concerns on responses to questionnaires the court has sent to some 400 potential jurors.
“I want to be honest with the parties, it’s going to be tough getting a jury from what we’re seeing already in responses,” Leos said.
Gonzales, 37, faces a charge of child abuse resulting in death in Victoria’s Aug. 23 death.
Gonzales also is charged with eight counts of tampering with evidence and one count of conspiracy for allegedly dismembering the girl’s arms, wrapping her organs, washing knives and hiding clothing in an effort to conceal the killing, according to an amended grand jury indictment. His trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 3.
Gonzales’ attorney, Stephen Aarons, raised concerns about the site visit because of the “media frenzy” that has surrounded the case and the possibility of public protests.
Jurors typically remain in the “ivory tower” of the courthouse, but may be directly exposed to protesters at the site of the killing, he said.
Leos responded that she intends to keep the timing of the site visit under wraps. The media will be allowed outside the apartment complex the day of the visit but are prohibited from broadcasting or publishing in advance the time and location of the visit, she said.
“People could probably find out the location easily enough, but if they don’t know the date, that makes it a little bit more difficult, which is why it’s so important that the media pays attention to that rule,” Leos said.
Two others charged in connection with Victoria’s death have pleaded guilty to a variety of felony charges.
Both are scheduled for sentencing in February.
Gonzales’ cousin, Jessica Kelley, pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, aggravated assault, three counts of tampering with evidence and one count of conspiracy to commit tampering. The plea deal calls for Kelley to serve 50 years in prison.
Michelle Martens, Victoria’s mother, pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse resulting in death. The plea agreement calls for her to serve 12 to 15 years in prison.
Both plea agreements require the women to provide “truthful testimony” in Gonzales’ trial.