Sex offender found guilty of murdering 6-year-old Tucson girl in retrial

In 2012, the disappearance of a little girl from her Tucson bedroom rocked the southern Arizona city. For months, police searched for her body.

After more than a decade, a Tucson man has been convicted of her murder.

A jury Thursday found Christopher Clements, 42, guilty in the death and disappearance of 6-year-old Isabel Celis, who shuffled off to bed on the night of April 20, never to be seen again. The verdict came after closing arguments wrapped up Tuesday.

Her body was found five years after her disappearance. Clements led FBI agents to her skeletal remains located in a remote desert area just north of Tucson in return for dropping his burglary charges and the release of his car.

This was Clements' second trial in Isabel Celis' death and disappearance following last year's trial, which resulted in a hung jury.

He is already serving a natural life sentence plus a 17-year prison term for the murder and kidnapping of 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez, who disappeared in 2014.

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.

Prosecution highlighted Clements’ interest in young girls

Attorneys on Tuesday presented their closing arguments after two weeks of trial in front of a jury.

The prosecution, led by Tracy Miller from the Pima County Attorney’s Office, argued Clements was the only person who could have kidnapped and killed Celis.

“There is no reason Mr. Clements would be in a desert area the day, within hours, after Isabel Celis disappeared, and then five years later, use that information to get yourself out of trouble when no one else had been able to tell us where Isabel was,” Miller said.

Prosecutors revealed Clements asked his former girlfriend to go to their front yard where, buried under a rock, was a plastic bag containing a piece of paper. Celis' name was written on that paper.

Miller pointed to photos of little girls on a hidden folder only Clements had access to on cellphones and iPads belonging to Clements and his former girlfriend.

Miller also revealed Clements' internet search history on his devices like a 2016 search for “Isabel Celis was not kidnapped” and “Isabel Celis sexy” in 2014. She also noted his cellphone location data in the hours after Celis' disappearance put him near the remote desert area where her body was eventually found.

Prosecutors showed Clements called Celis' home phone several times in October and November before her disappearance.

Miller also focused on his actions after her death. The days after Celis' disappearance, he changed his phone number and paid $110 for a car wash.

Defense said prosecution had no evidence proving Clements is guilty

The defense, led by attorney Eric Kessler, said the prosecutors did not present the jury with “indisputable evidence” that proves Clements is guilty.

“The prosecution has presented the case based solely on circumstantial evidence, attempting to paint Mr. Clements as the perpetrator of a heinous crime. … They haven't provided the piece of evidence that tells you it could not have been done any other way,” Kessler said.

Kessler pointed to the inaccuracy of programs used to map cellphone data, which put Clements in the area where Celis' remains were found on the night of her disappearance.

He asked the jury why the prosecution showed the photographs of little girls even though they were not related to the Celis family.

“Their reason is that they don’t want you to like Chris Clements, they want you to think that he is a creep. And if the state gets you thinking that way, then it would be a lot easier to sell you … these unsupported theories,” Kessler said.

He highlighted holes in the prosecution’s arguments, noting how challenging it was for investigators to get in and out of Celis' window when they were reenacting the alleged kidnapping. He noted family members did not hear any noise coming from Celis' room that night. He said it was unlikely Clements would be able to enter and leave Celis' room without a sound.

He also said Clements would have had to know the layout of the house, as well as Celis' favorite clothes, which were found missing.

Kessler suggested Clements found out the information about Celis’ remains from other sources, noting: “In jail, information is like currency.”

He asked the jury why someone would have gone to the FBI with information on the location of Celis' remains if they had any involvement in her disappearance.

“Who would put themselves in such legal jeopardy just to get a car back?” Kessler said.

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

The Republic’s coverage of southern Arizona is funded, in part, with a grant from Report for America. Support Arizona news coverage with a tax-deductible donation at supportjournalism.azcentral.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sex offender found guilty of murdering 6-year-old Tucson girl in retrial