The first of two trials for a man accused of kidnapping and killing two Tucson girls begins Tuesday, four years after authorities announced his arrest.
Christopher Matthew Clements, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of 6-year-old Isabel Celis and 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez.
Isabel disappeared in 2012 and Maribel in 2014. Both cases remained unsolved until the Tucson Police Department, Pima County Prosecutor’s Office and Pima County Sheriff’s Department announced Clements’ arrest at a press conference on September 14, 2018.
Officials said that in 2017, FBI agents received a tip that Clements might know information about Isabelle’s disappearance.
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In March 2017, Clements led investigators to Isabelle’s remains in a desert area northwest of Tucson as he tried to strike a deal to drop an unrelated robbery charge, court records show.
Maribel’s body was found earlier, but there were no suspects in her death until investigators learned about Clements and discovered Isabelle’s remains. Later, DNA evidence collected from Maribel’s body also linked him to her murder.
He was charged with 22 felonies, including two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping a minor under the age of 15, robbery and 14 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, allegedly related to child pornography .
The first trial against Clements will deal with Maribel’s murder. A trial in Isabelle’s death is scheduled for February, Pima County Superior Court records show.
Clements, a convicted sex offender with a criminal record spanning more than two decades and four states, is accused of taking Isabel from her downtown home while her family slept in April 2012.
Two years later, Clements was released from jail on bail in a robbery case, and that’s when he allegedly killed Maribel, who had left her Tucson home on June 3, 2014, to visit a friend.
When Maribel didn’t come home the next morning, her mother called her friend, who told her she never came home.
Her disappearance was initially treated as a runaway, but her body was found several days later in a desert area northwest of Tucson near North Trico and West AvraValley streets.
His house was minutes from Isabel’s.
Hundreds of mourners attended a candlelight vigil and funeral for Isabel in 2017 after she was finally found, remembering her as a hazel-eyed girl who played baseball and chose purple as her favorite color.
Becky Celis recalled that her daughter “loved to come and hug mommy and daddy all the time.”
Abrian Gonzalez, Maribel’s father, remembers her as a soccer and softball player who loved to go with him to car races at a motorsports park.
“He had a big heart and he was a comedian,” he said.
The death penalty is no longer sought
Clements’ 20-year criminal history includes sex crimes, assault, identity theft and robbery in multiple states.
By age 16, Clements was a registered sex offender in Oregon. Over the years, he has repeatedly failed to re-register as a sex offender, a requirement of his sentence. He was convicted of aggravated assault in Washington in 2002 and aggravated robbery in Oregon in 2006, both of which resulted in probationary sentences. In 2006 and 2007, he was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender in Florida and Oregon, both times receiving probation.
In 2007, Clements was arrested on federal charges related to failure to register as a sex offender, also in Arizona, following a traffic stop in Tucson. Two years later, he was found guilty and sentenced to 46 months in prison and five years of supervised release. That conviction was overturned on appeal because Clements’ original sex offense conviction occurred before the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act came into force in 2006.
In January 2017, Clements was charged in Pima County Superior Court with felony theft and criminal damage and was ordered held without bail due to two prior convictions and a charge of committing a felony while out of jail on bond.
On March 30, 2017, less than a month after authorities with Clements’ help found Isabelle’s remains northwest of Tucson — in relatively the same area as Maribel’s body — Pima County prosecutors dismissed the charges. . On March 31, 2017, police announced the discovery of Isabelle’s remains.
Court documents show that investigators found a letter written by Clements that suggested there were actually four bodies left in the desert area.
A search of Clements’ then-girlfriend’s home turned up schoolwork and a purple boy’s sweater, according to court records. Apparently sexual images of children were found on a computer which also contained internet searches such as “child killer not found guilty” and “body found in desert”.
Clements has been held in Maricopa County on unrelated charges since his indictment in the deaths of Isabelle and Maribel, but was transferred to the Pima County Jail last week to stand trial.
He originally faced the death penalty, but Pima County District Attorney Laura Conover announced in April that she would no longer seek the death penalty in this or any other case, fulfilling a campaign promise. Conover, a Democrat, was elected district attorney in 2020.
Clements was originally scheduled to stand trial in 2021, but jury turnover and negative television coverage caused delays, court records show.
In January, Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini ruled that no cameras would be allowed in the courtroom, citing concerns about Clements’ right to a fair trial, the court’s ability to keep him safe, and an affront to the dignity of the trial. the records show.
Jury selection took place Thursday and Friday, with hundreds of questionnaires sent out in advance to potential jurors. More than 140 respondents were excluded based on possible bias due to media exposure, economic hardship or other reasons, court records show.
Opening statements were scheduled to begin Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 10:30 a.m. before Superior Court Judge James Marner.
Contact Star reporter Caitlin Schmidt at 573-4191 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @caitlincschmidt