Jury to deliberate Clements’ fate in murder trial of 6-year-old Isabel Celis

Eleven years after the disappearance of 6-year-old Isabel Celis rocked Tucson to its core, the trial for the man accused of kidnapping and killing her is coming to an end.

Attorneys presented their closing statements Wednesday for the trial of Christopher Clements, 41, who is facing multiple charges for the kidnapping and death of Isabel. The charges include first-degree murder, kidnapping a minor under 15, and burglary.

Isabel made headlines in April 2012, after her family reported that she disappeared from her bedroom overnight. Days turned into weeks, which turned into years, without any leads as to what happened to Isabel.

Her parents kept up hope that one day she would return. They bought her Christmas presents and fixed up her room. But their daughter never came back.

She disappeared with no trace:Years later, a convicted murderer is on trial for the death of Isabel Celis

Five years after her disappearance, there was a break in the case. Her remains were found.

During Wednesday’s court proceedings, Deputy County Attorney Tracy Miller explained how officers finally found some of the little girl’s remains. Miller recalled witness testimony during which Clements’ former girlfriend Melissa Stark said she received a call from Clements while he was in jail for unrelated charges.

Clements told her to go to their front yard where, buried under a rock, was a plastic bag with a piece of paper in it. On that paper the name Isabel Celis was written. He also told her to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation with that information.

The FBI went to Clements who told them if they dropped his charges and released his impounded vehicle, he would tell agents where the remains were located. They agreed and Clements led them to a remote desert area in Marana, north of Tucson, near West Avra ​​Valley and Trico roads. There, they found bones later proven to be Isabel’s remains.

Attorney for the defense, Eric Kessler, reminded the jury that knowing about a crime is not illegal. He said there were many ways Clements could have known about where her remains were, although he did not give examples.

According to Miller, Clements had multiple connections to the Celis family. They were not just in a random residence on the east side of Tucson. Although the Celis family did not know him, Clements made multiple seconds-long calls to the Celis home in October and November, several months before Isabel disappeared.

Clements also bought and sold vehicles, specifically, Hondas and Acuras, and had a habit of driving around neighborhoods looking for these brands of cars, according to former girlfriends who took the witness stand during the trial. The Celis family owned a non-working Acura parked outside their house.

Miller also said a cellphone data location put Clements in the area where Isabel was found in the morning, hours after her disappearance. Miller said when experts looked at five years worth of data, this location was a “truly unique pattern for Clements’ cellphone” and it coincided with the time around when Isabel was kidnapped.

She added, Clements had no alibi for the morning hours when his cellphone data showed he was in the Marana area. He also changed his phone number the day after Celis went missing.

Miller referred to other evidence that suggested a motive: Clements had an attraction to young Hispanic girls. Photos were found on a secret file on Clements’ devices, depicting scantily clad, little girls. Some of the photos were screenshots, others were taken in Tucson.

Christopher Matthew Clements

One photo that was shown to the courtroom was a screenshot of a little girl dressed in pink, jumping on her bed.

Search history on his devices also showed that Clements had searched for “Isabel Celis sexy,” “trace evidence on body” and “body found in desert.”

Kessler countered that those photographs had nothing to do with Isabel, and they were just a character assassination of Clements.

Kessler also argued that the Celis house was built like a fortress with a tall wall around it. How would Clements know where the girl’s bedroom was?

Kessler reiterated there was no evidence to support speculation that Clements knew where Isabel was, climbed through her window and took her.

New trial denied:Christopher Clements denied retrial of his murder conviction in the first of two trials involving the death of Tucson girls

He also noted that there was no sound from her bedroom the night she disappeared. Not only did the four other people sleeping in the house not hear anything, but also the family’s four dogs did not bark at any strangers that night, and no one heard a sound from Isabel herself, Kessler said.

He suggested that the family was going through financial woes, and there were tensions between family members. He said Sergio Celis, Isabel’s father, could have walked the girl out the front door to someone else.

Miller said suggesting Celis had his daughter kidnapped was “offensive.” She reiterated there was no indication any kind of abuse took place in the home. Nor was there evidence to suggest Celis had anything to do with his daughter’s disappearance.

Maribel Gonzalez (left) disappeared in 2014, and Isabel Celis disappeared in 2012. On Sept.  15, 2018, Tucson police announced the indictment of Christopher Matthew Clements in the murders of the two girls.

Maribel Gonzalez (left) disappeared in 2014, and Isabel Celis disappeared in 2012. On Sept. 15, 2018, Tucson police announced the indictment of Christopher Matthew Clements in the murders of the two girls.

In a previous trial that ended Sept. 30, Clements was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping of 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez, who disappeared while walking to a friend’s house one evening in June 2014 in Tucson.

Her body was also found near West Avra ​​and Trico roads. Clements was sentenced to natural life in prison plus a 17-year prison term for kidnapping a teenage victim, to be served consecutively with the life sentence.

According to the Associated Press, Clements was already serving a prison sentence of up to 35 years for a Maricopa County burglary in 2017.

Clements also now faces an additional charge of making or possessing a weapon ― in this case, a sharpened pencil ― in connection with an incident on Feb. 7, according to information provided Tuesday by the Pima County Superior Court.

Coverage of southern Arizona on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is funded by the nonprofit Report for America in association with The Republic.

Reach the reporter at sarah.lapidus@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Isabel Celis murder trial: Christopher Clements’ fate in jury’s hands

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