Parents of 6-year-old Tucson girl testify in Christopher Clements trial for murder

Clements said he only knew where Isabel’s body was buried, but his defense team said he did not murder her.
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 7:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- It’s a murder trial 11 years in the making. The disappearance of 6-year-old Isabel Celis in Tucson was plastered all over the national headlines in 2012. Five years later, Christopher Clements led officers to her remains in the desert, which would later be connected to another death of 14-year-old Maribel Gonzalez.

Clements was recently sentenced to life in prison for Maribel’s death, and now, he stands trial for Isabel’s murder. But he claims he’s not guilty. Clements said he only knew where Isabel’s body was buried, but his defense team said he did not murder her. Instead, they’re trying to pin Isabel’s murder on someone else: her father.

Celis disappeared from her Tucson bedroom more than a decade ago. The case went cold until 2017 when Clements led authorities to her remains. Now, he’s on trial for the little girl’s kidnapping and murder.

Cameras aren’t allowed in the courtroom, so we’re relaying what’s played out with witness testimony. Isabel’s parents, Rebecca and Sergio, took the stand this week after years of advocacy for their daughter. But the defense team said Sergio Celis had acted suspiciously since day one.

They claim he sounded calm on his 911 call about his daughter’s disappearance and waited 15 to 20 minutes before calling the police. Isabel’s mother came to her husband’s defense and said behind the scenes, he was not calm at all.

Prosecutors point blank asked Sergio if he had anything to do with his daughter’s disappearance and death, to which he said absolutely not and told the court, “We had three kids. Two are here today, and the other is always right here” while pointing to his heart. “My Isabel Mercedes would be 17.”

Friday, much of the important testimony came from Clements’ ex-fiancé Melissa Stark. She told the FBI Clements asked her to call them and say he knew where Isabel’s remains were in exchange for dropping previous charges against him for a different crime.

Stark told the court she was with Clements from 2012 to 2020. While she couldn’t remember if Clements ever talked with her about any involvement in Isabel’s disappearance, she did say he asked her to check for a note under a rock in the front yard of their home. She said she destroyed the note but that it allegedly had Isabel’s name on it.

Clements’ defense attorney said there’s no proof the note ever existed. A Tucson police detective and DNA expert also took the stand Friday afternoon. Crime scene photos of Isabel’s remains were shown, and that’s when her family left the courtroom.

It was in the same area where Isabel’s remains were found that 14-year-old Maribel Gonzalez’s remains were later found too. Clements’ DNA at that crime scene ultimately led to a murder conviction in Maribel’s case late last year.