ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After 13 days of proceedings and testimony from 35 witnesses, a panel of jurors has found Fabian Gonzales guilty on all counts in the trial tied to the 2016 Victoria Martens killing. The conviction means Gonzales was found guilty on one count of reckless child abuse resulting in death, several evidence tampering charges, and a conspiracy charge.
Jurors returned a verdict just before a lunch break at noon on Monday, having spent roughly two and a half hours deliberating. Monday marked the first verdict discussions between jurors in the case.
Gonzales was present in the court during the verdict, however, he remained out of view of cameras and most people in the courtroom. Due to a COVID-19 positive status, Gonzales was isolated in a plexiglass box outside of the view of the actual courtroom where the verdict was read.
Judge Cindy Leos says Gonzales will now face sentencing in two to three months. With conviction, Gonzales faces between 18 and 40.5 years in prison according to prosecutors from the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez appeared live on Facebook shortly after the verdict, saying the verdict “marks the close of one chapter” in the six-year-old case, following several twists and turns in the case. In 2018, Torrez’s office dropped murder charges against each of the defendants after evidence proved the case was far different from what police initially believed.
“Today has been a long time coming,” Torrez said. “But we committed to you years ago that we wouldn’t stop until we found justice and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
Prosecutors contend Fabian Gonzales’ lifestyle lead to Victoria Martens’s death. Torrez said the case remains a “wake-up call for the community.”
“We need to do to try to protect children who are at risk and being abused,” Torrez said. “I know right now that there are other children in this community who are living in very difficult and dangerous circumstances and I would urge every one of you to do what you can to report any known acts to child abuse to law enforcement so that we can do what we can to do everything in our power to try to bring justice for Victoria.”
Prosecutors Greer Staley and James Grayson lead the case for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office. They described being “grateful” for the outcome Monday.
“Our legislature has recognized that children are the most vulnerable people in our population and they need to be protected,” said James Grayson, responding to the verdict. “Any member of society who puts a child in danger can be prosecuted, and here he put Victoria in danger, and that’s why the jury, after carefully weighing the evidence, they found him guilty.”
The defense responds
Following Monday’s decision, Gonzales’ defense attorney Stephen Aarons said he’ll appeal the decision. Describing disappointment with the outcome of the case, Aarons said he felt the DNA evidence in the case exonerated Gonzales.
“I think just the horror of the case, [the jury was] ready to rule within a couple of hours,” Aarons said. “It’s hard to get past your emotions in a case like this, and I think those emotions overwhelmed this jury.”
The defense contends Jessica Kelley is solely responsible for Victoria Martens’s death. Kelley, Gonzales’ cousin, testified that an unknown man killed Victoria, then Fabian helped try to cover up the crime scene.
Speaking of Jessica Kelley, Aarons said “she’s probably laughing now” that prosecutors accepted her version of the story. “I think emotions ruled the day,” Aarons said.
Facing up to 40 years in prison, Aarons said it was “unjust” for Gonzales to be facing as many as four decades in prison, given what Aarons called a “minor role in this case if any role at all.”
“I can understand the emotions that ran through everyone, including counsel and the police and everyone, in this case, it’s just an overwhelming emotion for this case,” Aarons said. He described Gonzales as “shocked” by the outcome.
Gonzales, who’s now married, has been out on release since November 2019, essentially on house arrest while awaiting trial. He was remanded into custody immediately following the verdict Monday. Aarons says Gonzales will likely receive three years of “time served,” in his sentencing, crediting the time he’s been on house arrest.
“That’s a guarantee that we’ll appeal, there’s been a lot of tough decisions made in the case,” Aarons. “The one that bothers me is that, if we looked at the DNA, allele by allele, it can’t be him and their argument seems to suggest they found male DNA and he’s the only male in the house, and that was very misleading to the jury.”
With over 500 exhibits of evidence and three weeks of testimony, Aarons says it was shocking to see the jury come back with a verdict in just under three hours. “It’s clear all twelve were ready, from the moment they walked in there, they knew what they wanted to do.”
The case, explained
Victoria Martens was murdered in her northwest Albuquerque apartment on August 23, 2016. Investigators say the 10-year-old girl was strangled to death, dismembered, then set on fire. They also allege that the clean scene was cleaned before police arrived.
The defense argues that Fabian Gonzales had nothing to do with Victoria’s death or the crime scene clean-up. Gonzales’ attorneys have accused his cousin, Jessica Kelley, of being the sole person responsible for killing and dismembering Victoria.
In 2018, prosecutors found cell phones records proved Gonzales and Victoria’s mom, Michelle Martens, weren’t in the apartment when Victoria was killed. However, Jessica Kelley was in the apartment during the murder.
Based on DNA evidence collected on Victoria’s body and testimony from Jessica Kelley, prosecutors believe an unknown man entered the apartment on August 23, then strangled Victoria to death. During the trial, Kelley testified that the unknown man walked into the apartment, asked for “Fabo,” then walked back to Victoria’s room. Kelley claims the man acted as if he knew the apartment or had been there before.
Kelley testified that after some time, the man left Victoria’s room and spoke to her before leaving. Kelley testified the man said, “Fabian f***** up” and that “he knows what he did.” She said the man told her “there’s a mess in there,” referring to Victoria’s room. Kelley also testified that the man told her she and Fabian had to clean up the crime scene, or their own lives and the lives of Kelley’s kids would be at stake.
Prosecutors say it’s unclear why Victoria was killed. However, throughout the trial, they highlighted a fight and subsequent threats between Gonzales and a relative at a BBQ party as the only significant event involving Gonzales prior to Victoria’s murder.
Victoria was killed sometime between 7:05 p.m. and 8:48 p.m. on August 23, according to APD’s lead investigator. After the murder, prosecutors say Gonzales and Kelley made a plan to dispose of Victoria’s body and clean the crime scene sometime after Gonzales returned home, after 8:48 p.m.
Around 4:30 a.m. the next morning, Albuquerque Police arrived at the apartment. Gonzales and Martens called 911 after they were reportedly attacked by Kelley.
The charges against Gonzales & the other defendants
While Gonzales is not directly charged with killing Victoria, prosecutors argue that Gonzales created a dangerous environment that eventually lead to her death. Aside from Gonzales’ personal behavior, prosecutors allege that he knowingly left Victoria in the care of Jessica Kelley on August 23, 2016. Kelley admitted in testimony that she was high on meth when Victoria was in her care.
With the conviction of the reckless child abuse charge, Gonzales faces a minimum of 18 years in prison. He was also convicted of seven counts of evidence tampering related to elements of the alleged crime scene clean-up. Finally, Gonzales was also convicted of one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence for allegedly creating a plan with Kelley to clean the crime scene.
Gonzales is the only one of three known defendants in the case to face a trial. Victoria’s mom and Gonzales’ former girlfriend, Michelle Martens took a plea deal in 2018. Martens pleaded guilty to one count of intentional child abuse resulting in death. She is expected to serve 12 to 15 years for the crime. She’s expected to be sentenced at the conclusion of Gonzales’ trial.
Gonzales’s cousin, Jessica Kelley, took a plea deal on several charges in early 2019, including reckless child abuse resulting in death. In April 2022, Kelley was sentenced to 44 years in prison for the case while agreeing to testify in Gonzales’ case. With credit for “good time,” Kelley may only be forced to serve half of the 44-year sentence.
2nd Judicial District Court Judge Cindy Leos is oversaw the trial. Defense attorneys Stephen Aarons and Hugh Dangler are representing Gonzales in the case. The prosecution is being lead by Greer Staley and James Grayson, both of whom are deputy district attorneys with the Bernalillo County DA’s Office.
Looking for trial coverage? Here’s a list of links to all of KRQE News 13’s day-by-day coverage of the trial:
- Day one: Trial begins for man connected to Victoria Martens killing
- Day two: Jessica Kelley takes stand in day two of trial for Victoria Martens killing
- Day three: Jessica Kelley wraps testimony in third day of Victoria Martens trial
- Day four: Investigator details cell phone data in trial on Victoria Martens killing
- Day five: Former neighbors dominate testimony in day five of Victoria Martens trial
- Day six: Both Gonzales & Victoria Martens DNA found on single sock, no other clothes
- Day seven: Homicide detective, second DNA expert testify in Victoria Martens trial
- Day eight: Fingerprints, APD investigation takes focus in Victoria Martens trial
- Day nine: APD detective details reinvestigation into Victoria Martens case
- Day ten: Medical examiner, lead investigator questioned in Victoria Martens trial
- Day eleven: Fabian Gonzales to resume trial Thursday with COVID-positive status
- Day twelve: Defense calls witnesses in Fabian Gonzales, Victoria Martens trial
- Day thirteen: Fabian Gonzales trial wraps, jurors to deliberate Monday