A missed bit of governmental hoop-jumping doomed the wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque brought by grandparents of a 10-year-old girl who was brutally murdered by one of her mother’s boyfriends.
(CN) — Four years after the murder of 10-year-old Victoria Martens, a Bernalillo County judge dismissed the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city of Albuquerque by her grandparents because they failed to notify the city before suing.
The lawsuit filed in August 2017 describes her as “a fourth grader who loved the color purple, gymnastics, her church and swimming.”
John and Pat Martens sued Albuquerque claiming the Children Youth and Families Department failed to investigate a March 2016 report indicating Victoria was being sexually abused by one of her mother’s boyfriends. That August, Victoria was brutally murdered by another of her mother’s boyfriends, Fabian Gonzales.
Victoria’s mother, Michelle Martens met Gonzales on the dating website PlentyofFish.com.
According to the lawsuit, Martens “routinely searched for and found men on internet dating websites to sexually molest her daughter for her own sexual gratification and so she could receive the money obtained through child prostitution.”
On Victoria’s 10th birthday, Gonzales and his cousin Jessica Kelley gave Victoria alcohol and then raped her. Afterward, Gonzales choked Victoria and Kelley stabbed her while Michelle Martens watched. According to the lawsuit, they dismembered her arms and left her body “partially wrapped inside a towel and set on fire in the bathtub.”
Local news reports now suggest a fourth unknown suspect also participated.
Victoria’s grandparents say they first gave the city notice of a potential lawsuit in November 2016, while the initial criminal investigation was underway.
Following a September 2020 hearing, however, Bernalillo County Judge Barela Shepherd determined the city of Albuquerque did not have sufficient notice and dismissed the case Monday.
“A notice is not adequate merely because it alerts an agency that it might be sued,” Shepherd wrote in a 7-page order. “The purpose of the Torts Claims Act notice requirement is to ‘reasonably alert the agency to the necessity of investigating the merits of the potential claim against it.”
The Governor Bill Richardson appointee added: “The November 2016 notice does not alert the defendant that it should investigate a potential breach of its duties under the Abuse and Neglect Act.”
According to Shepherd, the grandparents’ notice in November 2016 only informed the city it might be sued because it failed to monitor Gonzales while he was on probation.
“That is not the claim that has been brought in this lawsuit,” the Shepherd concluded.
Representatives for the city of Albuquerque did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After dodging a murder charge and being released in November 2019, Gonzales reportedly violated the conditions of his release. He has yet to stand trial on charges of evidence tampering and reckless child abuse.