In a rare move, a judge rejected a plea deal that would have sent Victoria Martens’ accused killer away for almost 50 years.
It all unfolded in Bernalillo County District Court Friday with prosecutors and defense attorneys presenting a surprise plea deal.
Walking into district court Friday, Jessica Kelley was prepared to accept nearly 50 years in prison for her role in the 2016 murder of 10-year-old Victoria Martens.
It was Judge Charles Brown, however, who called the deal off based on what Kelley told the court about the night Victoria was killed.
“Did you have any indication or idea that something was going to happen?” Judge Brown asked Kelley.
“No, not until after…it happened,” Kelley replied.
“I can’t accept a guilty plea as to count one,” Judge Brown responded.
“Count one” Judge Brown rejected was “aggravated child abuse resulting in death” — one of six charges Kelley was pleading to.
Prosecutors and defense now agree on one story: that Kelley and Victoria Martens were at the girl’s apartment two years ago.
“Were you caring for Victoria?” a prosecutor asked. “Yes,” Kelley answered.
Kelley says she was hallucinating on meth, but put Victoria to bed alive.
At some point, Kelley says an unknown man came into the apartment and asked for her cousin, Fabian Gonzales, by his nickname.
“He asked for ‘Favo,'” Kelley said.
Kelley claims she told that unknown man it was only her and Victoria home, but that man went to Victoria’s room and killed her.
Prosecutors argue Kelley put Victoria in danger by letting that man go into Victoria’s room. Prosecutors also claim Kelley knew people wanted to hurt Fabian Gonzales or people around him, over a fight involving drugs.
“She knew or should have known of the substantial and foreseeable risk that this individual posed to Victoria Martens,” prosecutor James Grayson said.
“That flies in the face of all reason and common sense. You’re asking that Ms. Kelley…somehow a mind reader,” Judge Charles Brown argued.
The judge questioned Kelley directly about what she thought the unknown man would do.
“You know, I did not feel that there was a threat at the time until after the threat he made when he left,” Kelley said.
The judge rejected the deal, saying Kelley’s admission doesn’t match a child abuse resulting in death charge.
Kelley was taken back to jail and at this point, still faces all of her original charges with a trial slated for January.
District Attorney Torrez responds to judge’s decision
District Attorney Raul Torrez says state prosecutors, as well as Jessica Kelley’s defense attorney, never saw this coming.
Shortly after the judge’s decision, Torrez explained what his office plans to do next.
The DA says the decision to enter into a plea agreement with Jessica Kelley was not an easy one. Now, they’re back to the drawing board.
“It was my intention to come before you today to announce that Jessica Kelley had accepted a plea agreement,” Torrez said.
DA Raul Torrez told reporters it was a rare move for a district court judge to deny a plea deal both the state and defense worked out.
Kelley was supposed to plead guilty to six charges, including child abuse resulting in death for her role in Victoria Martens’ death.
“It is something that I struggled with and something that our team gave a lot of thought and consideration to,” Torrez said.
In court, the judge denied the defense the opportunity to read a “prepared statement.” Instead, he asked Kelley to explain in her own words what happened the night Victoria was murdered.
“I really didn’t think that there was something bad going to happen the way it did,” Kelley said.
That’s when Judge Brown told prosecutors he felt that Kelley’s testimony didn’t add up with the charges she was pleading guilty to.
“She signed the plea agreement. She was well aware and advised by her counsel with regard to what those charges were,” Torrez said.
This plea deal would have also required Kelley to testify against her cousin, Fabian Gonzales, and that’s why the DA says the need her cooperation moving forward and hopes that wasn’t jeopardized.
“We will be looking at her record trying to determine what steps if any we can take, because we still believe that this agreement is in the best interest of justice,” Torrez said.
DA Torrez says his office is now looking at all options after Friday’s ruling. One of those includes filing a motion to reconsider. That again, would go up in front of Judge Charles Brown.
DA’s office releases new “Statement of Facts”
The DA’s office also released a formal, new narrative of what prosecutors believe happened the night Victoria was killed.
Prosecutors describe how Kelley feared someone was driving by the apartment looking for Gonzales that night, before the unidentified man came upstairs and strangled Victoria; then threatened Kelley and her kids if she and Gonzales didn’t clean up the crime scene.
It describes Gonzales and Martens going on a meth spree before arriving home, and then Kelley and Gonzales distracting Martens so she didn’t know her daughter was dead — having her cook dinner and then putting her to bed so they could dispose of the body.
“As everyone’s aware, Fabian Gonzales’ trial is next month, and so we are still preparing for that. Without Jessica Kelley, that trial becomes far more complicated and far more difficult,” Torrez said.
Gonzales is slated to go on trial on Oct. 15.
Prosecutors dropped the rape and murder charges against him, but he’s still charged with child abuse resulting in death for leaving Victoria with his cousin Jessica Kelley, a convicted rapist and drug dealer.
Gonzales claims he shouldn’t be charged because he’s not Victoria’s guardian, but prosecutors point out that Gonzales cooked fo her, called her “mija,” and even bought her a kitten.
Michelle Martens has already pled to lesser child abuse charges in the death and is awaiting sentencing.
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