Latest murder of 10-year-old adds to string of tragic deaths of children in New Mexico

The killing this week of a 10-year-old Albuquerque girl who police say was drugged, raped and dismembered is just the latest horrific child slaying case for New Mexico, which has the nation's highest youth poverty rate and a state government that has had heavily publicized difficulties protecting children from abuse.

Victoria Martens was not known to have been a victim of previous violent abuse. But officials acknowledged Friday that the man accused of injecting her with methamphetamine before raping her was not being monitored by probation officers or tested for drugs as mandated by a judge last year.

In that case, 31-year-old Fabian Gonzales was arrested for beating another woman in a car with a baby inside it while the woman was driving and ended up pleading no contest to two misdemeanor crimes that kept him out of jail. Corrections department officials said Friday they never got the judge's order for him to be supervised by probation officers.

Victoria's death follows a 40-year prison sentence handed down in May for an Albuquerque woman for the 2013 kicking death of her 9-year-old son. That case prompted an overhaul of the New Mexico state agency that investigates child abuse.

That same month, an 11-year-old Navajo girl was taken to a desolate area by a stranger who sexually assaulted her, bludgeoned her and left her to die.

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"We have a litany of little angels who are crying at us from the grave," said Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops.

New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson said Friday that state records showed no prior cases involving violence or sexual abuse against Victoria. The agency has joined police in the investigation into the death.

Jacobson said she was prohibited by law from disclosing whether the agency had received any other complaints related to Victoria, described by neighbors from her blue-collar apartment complex as a seemingly happy and sociable girl who loved to swim and dance.

The others charged in Victoria's death are her mother, Michelle Martens, and Gonzales' cousin Jessica Kelley. While Martens has no online record of an arrest in New Mexico, she told police Kelley had been released from jail just days before Victoria's death.

The three face charges of child abuse resulting in death, kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Gonzales and Kelley are also charged of criminal sexual penetration of a minor.

There were conflicting reports from state officials Friday over communication of probation requirements imposed on Gonzales between court administrators and the New Mexico Department of Corrections.

Deputy Corrections Secretary Alex Sanchez said her agency never received a judgment and sentence order mandating supervised probation for Gonzales. It was meant to ensure he committed no crimes and threatened jail time as punishment for violations like illegal drug use.

Second Judicial District Court spokesman Tim Korte said records show the documents were forwarded to the corrections department in February 2015.

Martens worked at a local grocery store, said neighbors who knew little else about her, and told detectives she met Gonzales online about a month before her daughter's death.

Victoria's grieving grandparents and other relatives said they were thankful to first-responders, investigating authorities and community members who offered prayers, said minister and family spokeswoman Laura Bobbs.

"Children have few rights and no one to speak for them," Bobbs said. "Today, I speak for the children and the voice of Victoria. Parents, communities and governments need to put our children first because they are our future."

Other high-profile New Mexico child killing cases include a woman sentenced last year to 21 years in prison for smothering her infant daughter to avoid hearing her cry and a man sentenced to 63 years for raping and killing his baby daughter.

Those stories made national headlines, but Victoria's slaying is drawing deeper condemnation.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez said it was more troubling than all crimes she handled during a 25-year career as a state prosecutor before her election to the state's top post in 2010.

"I personally took on some of the most brutal, violent, gut-wrenching cases our state has ever seen. This has to be the worst," she said in a statement Friday.

Sanchez suggested deaths like Victoria's could be prevented if state child welfare case workers made more home visits and New Mexico implemented a statewide pre-kindergarten program. Research shows both help reduce to reduce child abuse and poverty, he said.

"We should get on this now," Sanchez said. "It's going to take a whole generation before we see real change."

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