Pima County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case of a man accused of slaying two Tucson girls.
Christopher Clements, 36, 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.
Isabel was taken from her bedroom in April 2012, shortly after Clements was released from prison on federal charges. Court records show he was living about 2 miles from Isabel’s home when she was abducted.
Clements was arrested on unrelated burglary charges five months later and released on bail. His case was still playing out in court in June 2014, when Maribel was reported missing. She had left her house to visit a friend, but never made it there. Her body was found in a desert area three days later.
In March 2017, detectives found Isabel’s remains in the general area where Maribel’s body was discovered after receiving a tip that Clements had information. Clements agreed to tell detectives where Isabel’s body was in exchange for charges in another burglary case being dropped.
Per the agreement, the charges were dismissed, but Clements was transferred to the Maricopa County jail on another burglary-related case, where he remained until his arrest last September in connection with the Tucson slayings.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office had filed two extensions for providing notice of its intent to pursue the death penalty, most recently on Jan. 24.
On Friday, the Attorney’s Office filed notice that it would be pursuing the death penalty, according to court records.
In court on Monday, Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini said she would be drafting a document to address pre-screenings, which includes an IQ screen.
“We don’t take five years to try death-penalty cases here like they typically do in Phoenix,” Bernini told Clements’ lawyers, Eric Kessler and Joseph DiRoberto, adding that she wanted to give them adequate time to file an objection to the pre-screening.
Monday’s hearing addressed several other items, including the state’s motion to appoint a special master to review recordings of dozens of recorded jail phone calls between Clements and Tucson attorney John Kaufmann, who represented Clements in a 2012 case. In December 2016, Kaufmann withdrew as Clements’ lawyer, but a review by Tucson police detectives of phone numbers associated with Clements showed multiple calls to Kauffman’s home.
The police have three such recordings, but have not received the other 24 from Maricopa County jail officials, Deputy Pima County Attorney Jonathan Mosher said in court.
Clements’ lawyers objected to the motion, but Bernini granted the state’s request, saying she’d approach several retired judges about acting as a special master in the case.
Clements’ next hearing is scheduled for April 15.