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False Admissions Pulled Michelle Martens into Daughter’s Murder


Mother with History of False Statements, Denial, Shallow Emotion, Implicates Self with Contaminated Details while Denying own Involvement

New York – The case of 10-year-old Victoria Martens, whose dismembered body was found burning in her Albuquerque home on her tenth birthday, took a surprising turn recently when prosecutors dropped the murder charge against her mother, Michelle Martens. Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez announced an agreement with Ms. Martens to plead guilty to Reckless Child Abuse following the release of findings by forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, M.D., Chairman of The Forensic Panel. 


Shortly before 5:00 AM on August 24, 2016, the Albuquerque Police Department responded to a call at Michelle Martens’ apartment,where Victoria Martens was living. Ms. Martens’ boyfriend Fabian Gonzales and Mr. Gonzales’ cousin Jessica Kelley were also then staying at the home. Upon discovery of Victoria’s body, Michelle Martens, Mr. Gonzales, and Ms. Kelley were taken into custody. In a videotaped interrogation, Ms. Martens made numerous statements that she witnessed her daughter being sexually assaulted, killed, and dismembered, although she denied actual physical participation. Ms. Kelley, Mr. Gonzales, and Ms. Martens were all charged with Victoria’s murder. 


In the months that followed, cell phone records and eyewitness accounts established that Ms. Martens was not home when her daughter died and therefore could not have participated in or witnessed Victoria's sexual assault and subsequent murder. As ongoing investigation continued to highlight contradictions between Ms. Martens’ original statements and the evidence, Mr. Torrez and his prosecution team sought out Dr. Welner to review the case for any commonalities it shared with known false confession cases. Dr. Welner has examined disputed confessions in some of the most complex and impactful litigation across the United States, at the request of both prosecutors and defense attorneys.



Dr. Welner’s review of this case focused on the interrogation, its context, and Ms. Martens’ individual vulnerabilities. In addition to studying recorded interviews of the three defendants, Dr. Welner reviewed the police investigation file, responding officers’ bodycam recordings, background data on Ms. Martens, and her cellular, text, and social media communication. This psychosocial evidence included information that reflected on her relationship to police, to romantic attachments, and to authority. Dr. Welner also conducted over a dozen interviews of Ms. Martens’ neighbors, family, her closest friend, the victim’s homeroom teacher, and even Ms. Martens’ defense attorney, before interviewing Ms. Martens at length.


Ultimately, Dr. Welner determined that Michelle Martens made false statements in her interrogation that she mistakenly believed would exclude her from being seen as responsible for her daughter’s death. In actuality, these statements created the perception of her involvement, even though she insisted she did not participate: she falsely placed herself at the scene of her daughter’s sex assault and murder which suggested not only that she avoided intervening, but that she may have been perversely aroused by it. 


Unbeknownst to interrogating officers, who impressed upon Ms. Martens that they were not her adversaries but were trying to solve the murder of her daughter, Ms. Martens had a history of routinely making false statements in the face of stress and undoing bad decisions. Dr. Welner identified numerous data points evidencing Ms. Martens’ capacity for using extreme denial, including the history, years earlier, of her denying her pregnancy until Victoria was born. Histrionic personality features, specifically a shallow emotional relatedness, contributed to her interactions with interrogating officers in a way that suggested that she was not affected by the enormity of the crime. 


Ms. Martens’ plea to lesser charges was supported by evidence from the night of Victoria’s death, noted Dr. Welner. Sometimes suspects make false statements to protect themselves because they are actually more involved than suspected,” he observed, adding, “Here, by contrast, Michelle Martens made false statements despite her innocence of murder. Whereas a confession involves a person saying one is responsible for a crime, this case illustrates how one can assert one’s innocence and yet make false statements that amount to admissions. The differences between false confessions and false admissions are highly significant, because a person making false admissions may think all along that she is illustrating her innocence with false statements. A person who confesses, even falsely, understands they are embracing the idea of guilt.”


To see DA Raul Torrez' press conference, click here


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