ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – As prosecutors are expected to wrap arguments for their case against Fabian Gonzales in the 2016 killing of Victoria Martens, a former cold case detective took the stand Monday, giving a detailed description of the reinvestigation into the 10-year old girl’s murder. Detective Rich Lewis’ work is credited for leading to a complete overhaul of the charges in the case against Gonzales, Michelle Martens and Jessica Kelley, based on DNA, cell phone evidence and discovery of Martens’ false confession.
Charged with reckless child abuse resulting in death, Gonzales is accused of leaving Victoria in a dangerous situation that eventually lead to the girl’s death. He’s also facing multiple evidence tampering charges, accused of helping Jessica Kelley dismember Victoria’s body and clean various pieces of the crime scene. Lewis described the monumental and confusing nature of this case to jurors.
“I can’t even put a scale [on this case], I’ve never seen anything like this in my 40 years [as a police officer]” Lewis said. “I’ve never come close to writing 17 supplemental reports on any case.”
“Would you describe this case as confusing?” asked Deputy District Attorney Greer Staley. “To this day,” Lewis responded.
Lewis took over the case in September 2017, describing closing out roughly 30 homicide cases to focus solely on the Martens murder. As he began looking at the evidence, specifically police’s interrogation of Michelle Martens Lewis said he began to see something the initial investigators did not.
“I started seeing something that– that there might be somebody else involved,” Lewis said, describing a fourth, unknown adult in the case who is thought to have killed Victoria. “It was a group investigation, but the investigation from APD determined that some of the charges just weren’t appropriate, [Fabian Gonzales] was not involved in some of those charges.”
Victoria was killed on August 23, 2016. Prosecutors say evidence shows the 10-year-old girl was strangled to death by an unknown man. Gonzales’ cousin, Jessica Kelley, described that man entering the apartment and killing Victoria while Fabian Gonzales and Michelle Martens weren’t home.
The defense argues that Gonzales had nothing to do with Victoria’s death. It’s accusing Jessica Kelley of being the sole person responsible for killing and dismembering Victoria. Meanwhile, prosecutors argue that after Victoria’s killing, Gonzales and Kelley attempted to conceal the girl’s death.
In testimony Monday, Lewis described Michelle Martens as a seemingly normal mother who held a job and took her kids to school. But also said Martens was a “people pleaser” with a “suggestable personality.” Reviewing Martens initial police interrogation, he said it was clear that “could be talked into anything or out of anything.”
“I had never really experienced anybody like Michelle Martens before,” Lewis said. Pointing to a stack of binders full of reports, Lewis continued, “I could talk her into this is a binder full of reports or a unicorn.”
Eventually, prosecutors hired a psychiatric expert to evaluate Michelle’s personality. That expert in part helped investigators re-evaluate the charges against Martens. In June 2018, Martens struck a plea deal, agreeing to one count of reckless child abuse resulting in death for leaving Victoria in the care of Jessica Kelley, and never checking on her the night she was killed.
“It was one of the most difficult interviews I’d ever done,” Lewis said of speaking to Michelle Martens. “I had to be very careful because I didn’t want to– It almost seems like when you would ask a question, she took it as statement and then she would expand upon it to please me.”
Investigators believe Victoria was killed sometime between 7:05 p.m. and 8:48 p.m, the time Martens and Gonzales returned to the apartment after several trips to Gonzales’ friends and family members homes. After reviewing the case, Lewis said the timeline of events on the night of Victoria’s murder indicates “two different scenes.”
“From everything we’ve seen, we believe somewhere between 7:05 p.m. and 8:48 p.m. that Victoria is murdered. The defendant and Michelle Martens return around 8:48 p.m.” Lewis described. “From 8:48 ’til almost 4 in the morning, we don’t really have anything, there’s not neighbors calling us, there’s no fighting, things are going along pretty well.”
Speaking to that lull in activity in the evening, Lewis reminded jurors of other detectives testimony. Detectives Frank Pezzano and Sgt. Joshua Brown described evidence of the apartment being cleaned.
“Then all of the sudden, around this 4:30 a.m. time, we get this 911 call, it seems to be a different scene, almost a panic,” Lewis said. “So now you have Jessica Kelley, in a panic, is now starting a fire and she’s essentially diving off a porch– that didn’t seem organized, that didn’t seem planned, that seemed a panic.”
To the allegations of evidence tampering, Lewis said that Fabian Gonzales admitted to cleaning his fingernails. He also said Gonzales initially lied to investigators about how he received a black eye. That black eye came after a fight with family members at a barbecue days before Victoria’s murder. Gonzales initially told police the injury occurred in the fight with Jessica Kelley.
Recalling the DNA testimony, investigators said there was too low of a level of DNA found on Victoria’s hands for a conclusive result. However, Lewis says its still significant that Victoria had low-levels of unknown DNA on her hand and neck, even though it was an an insufficient level to test.
“Based on what I’ve seen in the entirety of the investigation, Victoria fought like a hero for her life,” Lewis said. Prosecutors also tied to home in on why investigators didn’t find measurable amounts of DNA on Victoria’s body.
“If Victoria’s body was cleaned or wiped down, would that impact your understanding of the DNA found on Victoria’s body?” Deputy DA Staley asked. “Yes, it would,” Lewis responded.
Before Lewis’ testimony, jurors visited the site of the crime scene early Monday. Later in the morning, APD Sgt. Harold Sennett also answered questions about being the first officer to arrest Jessica Kelley and one of the first officers to find Victoria’s body.
Jurors have now heard from 25 different witnesses in the case. The defense is expected to begin presenting its witnesses starting Wednesday. While the defense says it still hasn’t decided if Fabian Gonzales will testify in the case, Gonzales ex-girlfriend and Victoria’s mom, Michelle Martens is slated to to testify for the defense.
Last Friday, a fingerprint expert described finding Gonzales’ prints on a mop and a few DVDs inside the Martens apartment. Meanwhile, APD’s lead detective described the course of the case investigation and played parts of Gonzales’ police interrogation.
2nd Judicial District Court Judge Cindy Leos is overseeing 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.