Christopher Clements: Man already jailed pleads not guilty in Tucson girls' slayings

TUCSON - A convicted sex offender who was indicted this month in the slayings of two Arizona girls who disappeared and were later found dead years ago faced arraignment Monday on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual exploitation of a minor.

Christopher Matthew Clements, 36, had been in a Phoenix jail for more than a year on burglary charges when the indictment in the case of the killings was issued earlier this month. He was extradited to Tucson for the arraignment and has pleaded not guilty.

His public defender, Nikolas Forner, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment

Police and prosecutors have been tight-lipped about how the girls died, whether there could be more victims and how they closed in on Clements in the killings of 6-year-old Isabel Celis and 13-year-old Maribel Gonzalez.

But a search warrant affidavit that was recently unsealed say that a woman engaged to Clements called the FBI in February 2017 to say he knew the location of Celis' body, according to KOLD-TV.

At the time, Clements was in jail on burglary charges. He traded information with authorities about the body's location in exchange for the charges being dropped and his impounded car being returned, according to the search warrant affidavit cited by KOLD-TV. Police in Tucson did drop those charges, but there were others pending in the Phoenix area, so he was jailed there.

Clements led authorities to Celis' skeletal remains on March 3, 2017. It was then that investigators realized the area was also where Gonzalez had been found three years earlier.

Celis went missing from her Tucson home in April 2012. Gonzalez never came home after going to visit a friend in June 2014. Her body was discovered a few days later in a remote area near Tucson.

It's unclear how Clements knew where Celis' room was or how he came in contact with Gonzalez, although they both went missing from the same area of Tucson. According to the search warrant, he alluded in a letter to there being two more bodies in that area, but police haven't reported finding any.

In October 2017, months after Celis' body was found, Clements' fiance called them again and tipped them off to some items of interest that were buried in the couple's former home.

Police who searched that home found a little girl's purple sweatshirt and schoolwork with the name "Mercedes" on it, which was Celis' middle name.

Court records show Clements has an extensive history dating back to when he was 15 years old and was convicted of molesting a 4-year-old girl. He was sentenced as an adult to two years and 10 months in prison, according to federal court records.

During a 20-month period ending in August 2008, Clements was convicted for failing to register as a sex offender in Bay County, Florida; Multnomah County, Oregon; and in Tucson, Arizona.

In the Arizona case, he was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison. But the conviction was reversed by an appeals court that ruled that a 2006 federal law requiring sex offenders to register did not apply retroactively to Clements.

Studies show that sex offenders who fail to register are much more likely to commit more crimes, said Laura Ahearn, executive director of the Crime Victims Center Inc., a nonprofit that aims to prevent child sexual abuse.

"What we see is that the offenders that are failing to register absolutely have a higher risk of recidivism," Ahearn said.

Records from Multnomah County, Oregon, also show Clements pleaded guilty to theft and identity theft charges in July 2006.

Clements also has a 2007 conviction for making a false report to law enforcement in Tucson and convictions in 2002 for identity theft and felony assault in King County, Washington.

In a pending case against Clements in the Phoenix metropolitan area, he is accused of participating in a ruse that led to the burglary of a home owned by a couple in their 80s. Clements has pleaded not guilty to burglary and fraud charges in that case.

Celis' disappearance sent shockwaves through the Tucson community. Residents questioned how a little girl could simply be taken from her own bedroom. Police searching for her found her window open and the screen removed.

The investigation included hundreds of tips from the public, a massive search with police-trained dogs and interviews with over 15 registered sex offenders, although it's unclear whether police ever spoke with Clements, who lived about two miles from the Celis home when the girl was taken.

The public, including cable TV show hosts and local media, placed blame on Celis' father, Sergio. The state's Child Protective Services agency barred Sergio Celis from having contact with his two sons, citing a need to ensure their welfare. Police would only say Sergio Celis voluntarily agreed to stay away from his children.

Despite all that, Sergio Celis and his wife, Becky, maintained hope their daughter would be alive. On Monday, they were in the Tucson courtroom when Clements, who wore an orange jumpsuit and had a black eye, made his appearance.

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