A man accused of killing two Tucson girls is asking that several of the charges against him be reconsidered, saying the state failed to present evidence to the grand jury, and placing blame on one of the victim’s fathers.
Christopher Clements, 36, appeared in Pima County Superior Court Monday for a status conference in his capital murder case. Clements was indicted in September in connection with the deaths of 6-year-old Isabel Celis and 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez. He’s facing 22 related charges, including two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of kidnapping.
On March 29, Clements attorneys filed a motion to reconsider several counts in the indictment, arguing that the state failed to present evidence to the grand jury.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Jonathan Mosher filed a 39-page response to the motion, with 595 pages of related exhibits, including transcripts of interviews, letters Clements wrote to his fiance, police documents and a DVD.
Clements’ motion for redetermination was no longer available in court records Monday morning. The state’s response included a request to seal the grand jury transcript, which Judge Deborah Bernini granted.
The state’s response said that Clements’ motion was “riddled with factual errors” and that the evidence presented to the grand jury went “far beyond probable cause.”
The response says that the evidence presented to the grand jury proves Clements’ “motive, plan, opportunity and intent in abducting and murdering two Hispanic female child victims in the case.”
The response detailed Clements’ “unusual obsession” with Acuras and said that the grand jury heard testimony that a man matching Clements’ description came by the house prior to Isabel’s disappearance to ask about purchasing a red Acura parked in front of the Celis house.
During Clements’ later negotiations with the FBI to provide information about the location of Isabel’s body, he was adamant that he wouldn’t release information unless his Acura was released from police custody in an unrelated burglary charge.
The grand jury also heard evidence that on April 21, 2012 — the morning Isabel’s family discovered her missing — Clements spent $110 on a car wash for his Acura, the same one that was in police custody when he was negotiating with the FBI.
The grand jury also saw evidence of phone records from the dates of Isabel’s and Maribel’s disappearances that link Clements to the areas where they went missing, and later pinged off cell phone towers by Avra Valley and Trico Roads, where the remains of both girls were later found, according to the response.
The day after Isabel was reported missing, Clements canceled phone service for the number that had pinged, the response said.
Evidence was also presented to the grand jury showing that DNA evidence found on Gonzalez’s body was a partial match to Clements.
The response spent a significant portion addressing what it called the defense’s baseless claims against Isabel’s father, Sergio Celis.
“Sergio Celis may have been convicted by the court of public opinion based on rumor, gossip and speculation,” the response said. “But now that evidence of these crimes has come to light, no reasonable grand juror could conclude he had anything to do with his daughter’s disappearance.”
Clements’ computer revealed searches for “Isabel Celis not kidnapped” which the state said in the response showed that Clements researched “blame Sergio” theories, rumors and gossip.
A search of one of Clements’ iPads revealed “a number of photos depicting young girls in fenced residential yards and in front of residences,” many of which appeared candid. Further investigation by police revealed that many of the photos of Hispanic girls were later tied to locations in Pima County, the response said.
The grand jury was also presented with evidence that Clements’ computer contained a thumbnail image that appears to be a selfie of Clements in the front seat of a car with a young girl “who bears a striking resemblance” to Isabel lying in the backseat, the response said.
When questioned about the image, Clements told investigators that the child was his 1½-year-old blond-haired son. When investigators showed the picture to the mother of Clements’ son, “she started shaking” and didn’t identify the child as her own, the response said.
To send the case back to the grand jury is only appropriate if a substantial procedural right was denied, and in this case, it wasn’t, the County Attorney’s Office argued.
“There is not one single argument in defendant’s motion which might have affected the grand jury’s probable cause determination,” the response said, adding that Arizona law requires a motion to cite supporting facts and authorities, which Clements’ did not.
During Monday’s hearing, Clements’ lawyers asked for an additional two weeks to prepare their written reply to the state’s response, which Bernini granted, giving Clements’ lawyers until April 26 to produce a response. Bernini said the state would not be allowed to submit a reply to the reply and that she’d make her ruling without a hearing on the issue.
Bernini urged both sides to start interviewing witnesses, saying she wouldn’t allow Pima County proceedings to be delayed by Clements’ pending cases in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Clements’ next hearing is scheduled for July 1.