ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A New Mexico district attorney dropped first-degree murder and rape charges Friday against a man arrested in the grisly killing of a 10-year-old Albuquerque girl, saying an ongoing investigation had revealed that much of what authorities had believed and shared publicly about the case was "simply not true."
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez's announcement that he was dismissing the most serious charges filed against Fabian Gonzales in the death of Victoria Martens came the same day the girl's mother, Michelle Martens, pleaded guilty to a count of child abuse resulting in death. She also was cleared of more than a dozen charges in the case, including murder.
Torrez said the mother had falsely told police soon after the August 2016 killing that she had watched Gonzales, her boyfriend, have sex with her daughter the night the girl's dismembered remains were found wrapped in a blanket that was set on fire in an apartment bathroom.
The mother also told police in a criminal complaint that Gonzales had drugged her daughter to calm her down, and that Jessica Kelley — a third suspect and Gonzales' cousin — held her hand over the girl's mouth and stabbed her in the stomach, according to a 2016 criminal complaint.
However, the district attorney said there is no physical evidence that Gonzales raped Victoria Martens, and that a crime lab analysis instead found another unidentified male's DNA on the girl's body.
Witness statements and cellphone data reviewed after Torrez became district attorney in 2017 also show Gonzales and the girl's mother were not at the apartment when the girl was killed, suggesting they left the child with Kelley. Court records indicate Kelley had a prior conviction on a felony rape charge.
The results of toxicology tests released in early 2017 did not turn up any drugs in the girl's system, only alcohol.
"Everyone in the immediate aftermath of this crime focused on the statement Michelle Martens made and they took it at face value," Torrez said. "The pieces of this puzzle just didn't fit."
The details of the girl's killing described in police documents sent shockwaves through New Mexico's largest city.
The night he was arrested, Gonzales denied having anything to do with Victoria's death as reporters yelled questions at him.
He has remained jailed while awaiting trial, and court records show he still faces charges of tampering with evidence and child abuse resulting in death stemming from Victoria's killing.
Kelley is still awaiting trial on first-degree murder, sexual assault and other charges. She has pleaded not guilty.
Authorities still fault Victoria's mother for leaving her in a dangerous situation the night of her death.
Meanwhile, Torrez said investigators are working to identify the male whose DNA was linked to the crime.
Authorities suspect he is connected in some way to Gonzales, Kelley and the girl's mother. Investigators have ruled out that the DNA could belong to any officers who responded to the crime scene.
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said in statement Friday evening that the department was continuing to work closely with the district attorney's office and federal partners.
"This is one of the most horrific crimes our community has faced," Gallegos said. "APD has devoted some of our most experienced detectives to the investigation and they have been instrumental this year in unraveling the misleading statements Michelle Martens made initially."
A psychological evaluation that was conducted after authorities began to encounter inconsistencies between the evidence and her statements found that suggestive questioning and other factors resulted in her providing falsehoods to authorities, Torrez said.
The Albuquerque Journal reported after Martens' plea hearing Friday that her attorney described her as someone who does not function at the same level as most people, and as a person who often responds to questions with answers she believes will please the other person.