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Evidentiary hearings in Clements case could prove critical

Charged with killing two young girls
Christopher Clements
Posted at 11:54 AM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-14 22:21:47-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The conviction or acquittal of Christopher Clements accused in the murders of 6-year-old Isabel Celis and 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez could hinge on evidence hearings held Pima County Superior Court Wednesday.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini will rule on evidence to be allowed in or out of the two separate trials to come. Those pieces of evidence will be key to whether jurors are willing to convict Clements in the two cases, or whether they find there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

Key evidence could include cell phone tracking of Clements that put him in the vicinity of where the remains of 13-year-old Maribel Gonzales were found. Those remains were traced to him by a DNA match.

Years later, in an attempt to escape a burglary charge, Clements offered to lead investigators to the remains of Isabel Celis. Those remains were in a remote part of Avra Valley, very close to where the remains of Maribel Gonzales were found. It's that connection, that prosecutors are counting on to convict.

In the Celis murder, prosecutors do point to an extensive web of other bits of evidence. But due to the nature of the case, if any one piece of evidence is excluded the overall case may be compromised.

Clements attorneys tried to convince Judge Deborah Bernini to throw out the cell phone evidence. They argue it was obtained with a court order, not a proper search warrant, and that order was from a burglary case in Maricopa County, unrelated to the child murder charges.

Prosecutors argue a court order was sufficient under state law on the books at that time and that the phone data should be allowed in trial.

Judge Bernini has already ruled that Clements should have separate trials in the two child murders. His attorneys requested that so he can testify in his own defense in one trial without facing questions that could implicate him in the other.

Prosecutors had said they intended to ask for the death penalty if Clement is convicted. Now they say they will not ask for death for Clements if jurors find him guilty.

Clements attorneys also want Judge Deborah Bernini to move Clements trials to a different county. Attorney Joseph DiRoberto says the case has had so much publicity Clements can’t get a fair trial in Pima County

“He’s been crucified on the altar of public opinion. He can’t get a fair trial and I think it’s laughable to think that he can.”

Prosecutors say they’re confident jurors can be found who will only rule on what’s presented in court.

Judge Bernini says she will probably rule on these issues by the end of the week.