Two detectives assigned full time to the Victoria Martens homicide case will begin work on unrelated investigations after attempts to identify an elusive fourth suspect have stalled, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

“In the absence of Jessica Kelley’s continued cooperation following the District Court’s rejection of her plea agreement, the investigation into the unidentified male has stalled,” Michael Patrick, DA’s Office spokesman, said in a statement. “Detectives will continue to work any new leads that are developed, but it is our understanding that they will also support other investigations.”

In September, Kelley had been set to plead guilty to multiple charges under an agreement that required her to testify at related trials and to offer statements to authorities. District Attorney Raúl Torrez said then that her cooperation was critically important to the state’s investigation into the well-dressed stranger that Kelley says killed the 10-year-old girl. But Judge Charles Brown rejected the plea, saying he was not presented with enough evidence that Kelley committed the crimes to which she was pleading.

Gilbert Gallegos, spokesman for APD, said the detectives “hit a critical point” in their investigation into the mystery suspect and expressed to their supervisors that they “felt like they could be doing additional work (in other cases) while they wait for these new leads.”

“They’re still on the case – they’ll still be prepared to go forward if they develop new leads,” he said. “A new lead could come in any number of ways.”

City spokeswoman Alicia Manzano said in an email Monday that the city is “committed to seeing the case through to the end,” but the police department is “also working on other crimes throughout the city, and needs to make the best use of resources, including detective time.”

Kelley is set for trial next month; her attorney declined to comment on the development.

But the announcement came as no surprise to Steve Aarons, the Santa Fe attorney who is representing Kelley’s cousin and co-defendant, Fabian Gonzales.

“The fourth suspect is a figment of Jessica Kelley’s imagination, just one more false statement to avoid life in prison for her murder of Victoria Martens,” he wrote in an email.

Kelley said during a September hearing that she was high on meth and baby-sitting Victoria when a man she did not know walked in and killed the girl. Prosecutors said he then told Kelley to clean up the mess or she and her children would be next. Prosecutors say the child was killed in an act of retaliation after Gonzales made threats to members of a rival gang.

When police were called to the Martens family’s apartment on the West Side hours later, they found the child’s body burning in a bathtub. Kelley and Gonzales, who was dating Victoria’s mother at the time, are accused of dismembering the girl.

Michelle Martens, the child’s mother, has pleaded guilty to various crimes and faces up to 15 years in prison. Contrary to early accounts of the crime, prosecutors say neither she nor Gonzales was at the apartment at the time of Victoria’s death.

Kelley had been expected to plead guilty to child abuse resulting in death and lesser charges, and she faced nearly 50 years in prison.

But Brown said he would not accept that agreement, saying there was no indication that Kelley knew or should have known that the person who entered the apartment intended to kill the child.

In a press conference shortly after that hearing, Torrez suggested that the rejection would harm his office’s ability to prosecute remaining suspects and to identify the fourth one. And Gallegos said Monday that if Kelley were to accept another plea agreement, detectives could wind up with new leads.

At trial, she faces numerous charges, including murder and child abuse resulting in death.

Detectives ‘disappeared’

Monday’s announcement regarding the investigation comes after the two APD detectives working the case cleared out their workspace at the DA’s Office on Thursday night and left their key cards behind without first notifying prosecutors, Patrick said Friday.

“There’s no reason for it. They’ve been investigating this case for the better part of two years,” Patrick said. “Suddenly they’ve – without notice or even a phone call – they’ve disappeared.”

They had been working in a shared space with the DA’s Office, focusing solely on the Martens case.

Gallegos said that night that the detectives received permission from their supervisors “to work on additional investigations in the department while the prosecution wraps up its trial work in this case.” He said detectives would be available to pursue new leads as they arise.

By Saturday morning, Patrick said he had been told by APD leadership that “the two detectives will be back on Monday.”

“It doesn’t appear that the mayor knew that they had been pulled,” Patrick wrote in a text.

Patrick sent an email Monday afternoon acknowledging the detectives would be working other cases as well.

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Reprinted with Permission