On October 27, after a lengthy 13 day jury trial that resulted in the conviction of one or 3 defendants charged in the heinous murder of 10-year old Victoria Martens, Second Judicial District Judge Cindy Leos sentenced Fabian Gonzales, age 38, to 37½ years in prison in the 2016 strangulation murder and dismemberment of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. Gonzales was found guilty of 1 count of child abuse resulting in death, 7 counts of tampering with evidence and 1 count of conspiracy for his role in Victoria’s killing. The murder is considered the most horrific child abuse case in Albuquerque history given the age of the child and how she was dismembered and her body burned in a bathtub.
Gonzales did not speak at his sentencing hearing and showed no emotion as Judge Leos pronounced his sentence. Under his sentence, Gonzales could be eligible for parole after serving half his sentence provided he serves his sentence without further incidents while in prison with good behavior. Gonzales has been in jail for 5 years while awaiting trial and will be given credit for the time served against his sentence.
Judge Leos said she agreed with prosecutors that Gonzales was directly responsible for Victoria’s death. Before passing his sentence Judge Leos said this:
“If it were not for Mr. Gonzales, there is no question in my mind that Victoria Martens would still be alive. … He was the conduit for her death, and clearly the jury agreed with that. … [Gonzales] was aware of Jessica Kelly’s propensity for violence, as well as her paranoia, on the date that Victoria was ultimately murdered. … I do not believe that his responsibility in Victoria’s death was remote.”
Judge Leos noted that Gonzales left Victoria alone with Kelley the day of the girl’s death, even though he was aware that Kelley was using methamphetamine and feeling increasingly paranoid.
During the October 27 sentencing hearing, the Bernalillo County District Attorney prosecutors asked Judge Leos to classify the child abuse charge as a serious violent offense saying without Fabian, Victoria would still be alive today. The designation would have ensured that Gonzales would serve at least 85% of that sentence instead of 50%. Judge Cindy Leos also felt the state failed to meet its burden of proof that Gonzales acted violently, pointing to the fact that Gonzales was not in the apartment at the time of the murder as was evidence by Gonzales’ cell phone records.
TWO OTHERS CHARGED
In addition to Fabian Gonzales, two others were charge in the killing. Those two were Jessica Kelly, 37, and Victoria’s mother Michelle Martens.
Jessica Kelley, 37, pleaded no contest in 2019 to 6 felony charges, including reckless child abuse resulting in death and other charges in Victoria’s death. She was sentenced in April to 50 years in prison. As part of Kelley’s plea deal in the case, she agreed to testify against her cousin Fabian Gonzales.
District Attorney Raul Torres negotiated a plea and disposition agreement with Michelle Martens, 41. Michelle Martins plead guilty in 2018 to reckless child abuse resulting in death and she faces 12 to 15 years in prison. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 10.
No one has actually been charged with the murder of 10 year old Victoria Martins.
GRUESOM DETAILS OF MURDER
During the trial of Fabian Gonzales, Jessica Kelley testified that on the day of Victoria Martin’s killing, she was left alone with the 10 year old child. Kelley testified that she was high on meth when a man she’s never met before walked in and killed the 10-year-old.
State prosecutors question Kelley about her actions on each day leading up to the day Victoria was murder. In the early morning hours of the day Victoria would later be killed, Kelley testified to being paranoid all day. On the day Victoria was killed, she claims Gonzales and Victoria’s mother, Michelle Martens, knew she was on meth when they left her alone with the 10-year-old.
Kelley testified for the first time of the unknown person who she claims killed Victoria. Kelley told state prosecutors that a man. well dressed, she did not know walked uninvited into the apartment asking for “Favo” and then went into Victoria’s room, strangled the girl, and left.
“[The man] said ‘Fabian fucked up. He knows what he did, there’s a mess in there’ that me and Fabian have to clean up and if not, ‘it’s going to be our lives and my kid’s lives. ”
Kelley testified that after Victoria was killed, she walked into Victoria’s room and found the girl lying on her back, blue in the face and without a pulse. Kelley claims she waited for Gonzales to come home, then pulled her cousin aside to tell him what happened.
Kelley told the jury:
“I don’t think he really believed me, because he was like, ‘For real cuz?! What the fuck!’ and I was like, ‘For real, what are we going to– we have to get rid of her body, like’ … and he said, ‘alright, we’ll take turns.”
At that point, Kelley claims Gonzales helped distract Michelle Martens from learning that Victoria was dead. She added that Michelle Martens never checked on her daughter before going to bed.
Kelley says that’s when Gonzales went into Victoria’s room and started dismembering the girl’s body. She testified:
“He was cutting her in the middle of her chest. He was like, ‘we’ve gotta make it look like it’s not us!’ I was, ‘like what the?! Just get the fuck out of here, I’ll finish it.”
Kelley also admitted that after attempting to dispose of Victoria’s body, she planned on killing Gonzales and Martens with an iron because she was scared of going back to prison.
Gonzales for his part testified at his trial and he kept to his original story that Jessica Kelley acted alone. He testified Kelley is the one who killed Victoria and tried to dispose of her body.
Court documents filed in the case also revealed how Kelley told investigators she was high on meth, babysitting Victoria Martens when a man she didn’t know came into the apartment and killed the little girl. Kelley said she told her cousin, Fabian Gonzales, that Victoria was dead. Kelley told investigators she and Gonzales dismembered Victoria, then the pair put the little girl into a bathtub, set the child’s body on fire and tried to clean up the crime scene.
Court pleadings also show that the night of the killing, Kelley grabbed an iron and hit Victoria’s mother Michelle Martens in the forehead. Afterwards, Michelle Martens and Gonzales left the apartment, and Kelley set Victoria on fire and then tried to run from police.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The postscript to this blog article contains a time line of events in the case.
DA RAUL TORREZ SPREADS BLAME TO APD IN MARTENS CASE
It was on June 29, 2018 that Bernalillo County District Torrez announced that the most egregious charges against the defendant Michelle Martens, including murder and rape, were dismissed. The plea agreement Torrez negotiated was to one count of child abuse, recklessly caused, resulting in the death of a child under 12. The plea agreement guarantees a 12 to 15-year sentence.
Michelle Martins is to be sentence on November 10, 2022. Because Martens cooperated and turned state’s evidence and given her significantly reduced mental capacity, there is a real chance the court will sentence her to 12 years and not the full 15 years.
Raul Torrez and his prosecutors also agreed that Michelle Marten’s crime would not be classified as a “serious violent offense”, meaning she could see her sentence cut in half for good behavior and serve as little as 6 years if she is sentenced to 12 years. Martens will also get credit for the 2 years of time already served because she was in jail pending trial, so it is possible that Martens could be out of prison in 4 years.
APD BOTCHED INVESTIGATION
The initial APD police investigation and reports alleged that it was Jessica Kelley that stabbed 9-year-old Victoria Martens and that Fabian Gonzales strangled her while Michelle Martens watched the murder. Part of the pretrial publicity that inflamed matters was the accusations that Victoria Martens had been raped, sexually assaulted and that the child had a communicable disease, all accusations that were proven false by further forensic investigation, the DNA evidence and the autopsy of the child.
Mark Earnest, Jessica Kelley’s defense attorney, announced that experts determined that contrary to the findings in the initial autopsy report, there was no evidence that Victoria was raped the night she was killed. Earnest said this:
“In totality … three experts [who have] … over 100 years [of experience] … determined that no sexual assault took place. Despite that, early on, the autopsy report in this case indicated that there was sexual assault.”
According to reports, the unidentified person’s partial DNA sample was left on the little girl’s body and the person has been indicted as a “John Doe” in order to toll the statute of limitations until the person is found and arrested for prosecution. District Attorney Raul Torrez said an unidentified man was retaliating against Fabian Gonzales when he went to Martens’ apartment and killed Victoria Martens.
District Attorney Raul Torrez took considerable heat and experienced tremendous public outcry regarding the plea agreement he negotiated with the defendant Michelle Martens. According to Torrez, the physical evidence and forensic evidence established the Defendant Martens and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales, who was also charged with the murder, were not even present at the time of the child’s murder.
DA Torrez said APD officers did not have the psychological profile at the time of the initial investigation was completed and APD detectives thought they could “trust what Martens was telling them” when she admitted to the crime of killing her own child.
The state’s own forensic psychiatrist said Michelle Martins did not realize she was also incriminating herself when she talked to police. The forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, who worked with the District Attorney’s Office, said a combination of Martens’ passive and naive personality, the way officers presented themselves as on her side and the context of her daughter’s recent death, led Michelle Martins to admit to a crime she did not commit and admitting to having witnessed the crime she never saw.
Dr. Welner was quoted as saying:
“In the course of questioning her about specifics and going over details, the officers in the questioning revealed certain details within the case that Michelle later incorporated into her story. … Incorporating them into her story gave the impression of some legitimacy of what she was saying.”
To complicate matters, Torrez announced in his June 29, 2018 press conference that a fourth yet unidentified defendant had been indicted as a “John Doe” for the child’s murder.
DA Raul Torres is quoted as saying during his June 29, 2018 press conference:
“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 … And we were forced to consider the possibility that Michelle Martens had falsely incriminated herself and [her boyfriend] Fabian Gonzales in this heinous act.”
Torrez announced that he removed the two original prosecutors from the case and assigned more experienced trial attorneys by saying:
“It was my sense that we needed to have a more experienced team involved and we need to have dedicated resources. … I’m not going to second guess at this point what information they had access to.”
With his words and actions, District Attorney Raul Torrez admitted he and his office at the very least made the classic mistake and engaged in a level of prosecutorial overzealousness by “over indicting” a case based on witness statements and confessions before all the physical and forensic evidence had been processed and reviewed by his office.
All to often, especially when DNA evidence is involved, witness’s statements are found to be false and contradicted by DNA evidence.
Many defendants have sat on death row based on false eyewitness testimony and even confessions only to be released years later because DNA proves they did not commit the crime. It was on June, 2, 2016, the murder charges against Donovan Maez, 22 and Christopher Cruz were dismissed when eye witness testimony was proven to be false.
The decision to assign more experienced trial attorneys to the case and dedicate more resources was indeed very noble and absolutely necessary. The problem is that it took Torrez a full 18 months to come to that conclusion. Torrez does not have to “second guess … what information they had access to” seeing as he admitted he knew within a few months after taking office there were real problems with the case, yet he publicly he acted like nothing was wrong until he had to come clean.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY RAUL TORREZ FOUND RECKLESS
District Attorney Raul Torrez in his various media interviews about the Victor Martens case shared extensive details of the case and his office’s prosecution strategy on the pending criminal prosecution against Fabian Gonzales and Jessica Kelley. During a January 4, 2019 pretrial motion hearing, District Judge Charles Brown determined District Attorney Raúl Torrez had been “reckless” in December 10, 2018 statements he made to the media about defendant Jessica Kelley’s absence of cooperation before her no contest plea.
Confidential sources said at the time that Raul Torrez resisted being called as a witness at the January 4, 2019 hearing before Judge Brown. His public information officer testifying instead. Further, confidential sources are said the defense counsel for Fabian Gonzalez intend to call Raul Torrez to the stand to testify regarding his public statements.
On January 4, 2018, District Judge Brown said that Torrez should not have issued a December 10, 2018 statement at all. Judge Brown admonished Raul Torrez for the statement by stating from the bench in open court:
“I don’t know if it was [intentionally done] to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, or if the goal was to shift the light away from the District Attorney’s Office or to move light to the Albuquerque Police Department … I find it to be woefully inaccurate in its ambiguity. It could be interpreted in many ways – all of them positive to the District Attorney’s office, some to the detriment of others. The District Attorney also has an obligation to protect the due process right of the defendant. … [The District Attorney] … represents the state, which is everyone including the defendant and the defendant’s families … The District Attorney’s obligation is to the system.”
Torrez sharing details and prosecution strategy in the case that were later reported upon by the media may have resulted in a “clear and present danger of prejudicing the proceeding” which would be an ethical violation of the code of professional conduct for lawyers. The New Mexico Code of Professional Responsibility has a very specific rule that governs attorneys conduct and pretrial publicity, Rule 16-306 Trial Publicity.
The extended media interviews that Torrez did in the case no doubt ingratiated Torrez with the news media and gave him the publicity he coveted, but Torrez did not help his cause in seeking justice for 10-year-old Victoria Martens. Another problem posed is that Torrez discussed with the media in his many interview’s conclusions based on the evidence that should be decided by a jury, not the prosecutor in the case.
District Court Judge Charles Brown could just as easily refer Raul Torrez to the New Mexico Disciplinary Board for violations of the Code of Professional Conduct relating to pretrial publicity. Raul Torrez needs to take to heart the words of Judge Brown when he said:
“[DA Torrez] … represents the state, which is everyone including the defendant and the defendant’s families … The District Attorney’s obligation is to the system”.
Judge Brown essentially told District Attorney Raul Torrez his obligation is not just to inform the media that results in generating intense media coverage. Judge Brown made it clear to Torrez that his ethical obligation is to the entire criminal justice system and not just to the media and his own political image and future.
Another obligation of any prosecutor is to have faith in the jury system and do the best you can to prove your case with the evidence you have in a court of law and if there is not enough evidence then the investigating agency needs to be held accountable.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Given the initial botched investigation and prosecution of the Victoria Matins murder case, it was luck that anyone was in fact brought to justice. Justice has been served with the 50 year sentence of Jessica Kelley and the 37½ sentence of Fabian Gonzales.
Very little justice can be said to have been served with the plea agreement negotiated by DA Raul Torrez wherein Michelle Martens plead to 1 count of child abuse, recklessly caused, resulting in the death of a child under 12 with the plea agreement guaranteeing her a 12 to 15-year sentence for her involvement in the death of her own child.
Then there is the matter of the “phantom” defendant killer that has yet to be identified and found by APD. APD has yet to announce if any progress has been made in identifying the phantom killer. Justice will not be fully served for 10-year old Victoria Martens until her killer is actually identified and brought to justice, but its far more likely than not the killer will never be found.
Links to quoted news sources are here:
TIME LINE OF BOTCHED INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION
It was on August 24, 2016 that APD found the dismembered body of young Victoria wrapped in a blanket in a bathtub inside an apartment on Albuquerque’s west side. The child’s mother Michelle Martin’s and her then-boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales and his cousin, Jessica Kelley, were all charged with the child’s death. Much of what investigators believed happened the night of the killing was based on what Michelle Martens told police in the days after her daughter was found dead. Martens’ story changed several times, but the main the main thrust of her story remained the same and all three took part in drugging, raping, mutilating and ultimately killing Victoria. It later was determined that a combination of Martens’ passive and naive personality, the way APD officers presented themselves as being on her side and the context of her daughter’s recent death, all led Michelle Martins to admit to a crime she did not commit and admitting to having witnessed the crime she never saw.
In September 2016, Michelle Martens, Jessica Kelly and Fabian Gonzales were indicted by then Bernalillo County District Attorny Kari Brandenburg on the charges of intentional abuse of a child resulting in death, aggravated criminal sexual penetration, murder and tampering with evidence.
In November 2016, Victoria Martens’ autopsy was released. The autopsy by the Office of the Medical Investigator found that Victoria had a sexually transmitted disease. The autopsy revealed that there are no drugs in Victoria’s system. Martens had told investigators that Victoria had been given meth the night she died.
On January 1, 2017 Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was sworn into office for his first term and he took personal responsibility to review the case. Torrez expressed concerns over aspects of how the APD investigation and follow-up procedures were handled and consequently Torrez formed a new team of investigators and prosecutors to take over the case.
In March, 2017 a new investigation began in the case and during the following months, investigators conduct hundreds of interviews. In May 2017, prosecutors also contacted a forensic psychiatrist to analyze statements Martens gave to police.
In June, 2017 forensic DNA testing revealed that a partial DNA sample found on Victoria’s back did not come from Fabian Gonzales. It was believed the sample was most likely from saliva, sweat or skin cells from another.
On June 29, 2018, District Attorney Raul Torrez announced a plea agreement where Michelle Martens, Victoria’s mother, plead guilty to a lesser charge of reckless child abuse resulting in the death of a child under 12. Torrez also announced several charges against Fabian Gonzales were dismissed. Cellphone data provided proof that neither was home at the time of Victoria’s death. Torrez also revealed that the the DNA of another was found on Victoria’s body and investigators were now searching for a “mystery” fourth suspect. With the plea deal, Michelle Martens faces a possible sentence of 12-15 years, and with good time she could be out of jail within 6 to 7 years. She is scheduled to be sentenced November 10, 2022.
In September 2018, over the course of two weeks, twice District Court Judge Charlie Brown denied the state’s attempt to make a plea deal with Jessica Kelley on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support the plea.
January 4, 2019, District Attorney Raul Torrez announced that the rape charge against Jessica Kelley were dropped because expert forensic witnesses weren’t going to be able to support the idea that Victoria Martens was raped by Kelley.
On January 7, 2019, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez reached a plea deal with Jessica Kelley just before her trial was set to begin wherein Kelley plead “no contest” to charges related to Victoria Marten’s death. As part of the plea deal, Kelley agreed to testify in the case against Fabian Gonzales and in the case of State vs. John Doe, which is the case brought against the unidentified defendant by use of DNA.
On April 29, 2022, Judge Cindy Leos sentenced Kelley to 50 years in prison with 6 years suspended. Once Kelley is released from prison, she will be on probation for 5 years.
On August 1, 2022, after a 13 day trial and testimony from 35 witnesses, a jury found Fabian Gonzales guilty of 1 count of child abuse resulting in death, 7 counts of tampering with evidence and 1 count of conspiracy.
On October 27, 2022, Fabian Gonzales was sentenced to 37½ years in prison for his involvement with the killing of 10 year old Victoria Martens.