Trial begins for Tucson man charged with murdering 13-year-old girl, second trial coming

Christopher Clements is on trial for murdering 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez in 2014.
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 9:13 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Opening statements began Tuesday in a high-profile murder case down in Tucson. Christopher Clements is on trial for murdering 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez in 2014.

It’s the first of two murder trials Clements will stand trial for. He’s also accused of murdering 6-year-old Isabel Celis in 2012. Now, we’ve learned what happened when Maribel’s body was found and why prosecutors are certain Clements is responsible for her death.

Clements was a convicted sex offender by the time he was 16. His sex abuse crimes spanned multiple states, escalating in Arizona.

After Clements was arrested in 2018 for the kidnappings and murders of Maribel and Celis, Maribel’s mother, Valerie Colange, foreshadowed the day she’d face him in court. “Knowing that he took my daughter’s last breath, and he’s standing right there in front of us,” she said back in 2018. “You mind doesn’t stop. It just goes and goes. You think of memories, you think of this guy and how it happened.”

In opening statements Tuesday, Pima County prosecutor Tracy Miller revealed Maribel’s body was found naked in the desert with nothing around her. Miller said Maribel left her house in June 2014 to walk to a friend’s house at the same time Clements left his home nearby. Miller said when Clements got home, he asked his girlfriend for cleaning supplies, including bleach.

The defense said while a DNA test was a partial match for Clements, he claims a full sample would have ruled Clements out as a suspect. The prosecution said DNA and cell phone evidence are enough to identify him as a suspect.

It’s been a nightmare for Maribel’s family for years. “Dealing with loss is a very hard thing for me because that was one of the closest people to me,” Maribel’s brother Remigio Melendrez told cameras several years ago.

Investigators say 6-year-old Isabel Celis (left) vanished from her parents’ Tucson home in 2012...
Investigators say 6-year-old Isabel Celis (left) vanished from her parents’ Tucson home in 2012 while Maribel Gonzales (right) disappeared while walking to a friend’s house two years later.(Arizona's Family)

Maribel’s homicide was unsolved for years, so how did they link the crime to Clements? The answer is 6-year-old Isabel Celis. Interrogation video showed Clements talking to detectives in 2017, giving them a location in the desert. He eventually led them to the body of Celis in exchange for a judge dismissing two other burglary charges.

After the Celis discovery, Clements was in Maricopa County jail on a different burglary charge when detectives started questioning him about Maribel’s death because he was a registered sex offender.

Transcripts from that conversation show he eludes he knew about Maribel’s death and the deal he made with Tucson PD that led to Isabel’s remains. “Let me tell you this. There’s a story that I know. And there is a correlation with well, I guess you could say, with what I’ve helped TPD with. But that would cost you guys a hell of a lot more than what you’d be able to pay,” the transcript from Clements read.

Clements was charged with both girls’ murders in September of 2018. Accusations of child sex abuse and sex offenses began in 1993 and lasted until 2015 when he was arrested for the murders. This trial for Maribel’s death is expected to last several weeks, then Clements’ second trial for the murder of Celis will begin next year.