CLOVIS – The attorney appointed to represent a New Mexico teenager accused in a deadly shooting inside a public library is certain any legal resolution will be a long time coming.
Assistant Public Defender Stephen Taylor says the case of 16-year-old Nathaniel Jouett is complex and given the amount of evidence involved, it could take months – if not a year – for lawyers to comb through it.
The inventory of evidence includes police interviews, cellphone data and phone videos from Jouett, as well as more than 1,000 combined videos and crime scene photos, The Eastern New Mexico News reported.
Taylor spoke with the newspaper after a district judge recently approved an order to seal surveillance video and audio from the Clovis-Carver Public Library as well as the teen’s cellphone videos, and footage from officers’ body cameras.
Jouett faces two counts of murder and numerous other charges stemming from the Aug. 28 shooting. He pleaded not guilty earlier this month and remains in custody pending trial.
The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes. It is using Jouett’s name because of the seriousness of the crime and because authorities are seeking adult sanctions.
An attorney with the capital crimes unit of the state public defender’s office, Taylor said he’s worked on numerous cases of youthful offenders charged with violent crimes.
“I enjoy this work, and I believe in it,” Taylor said. “Kids need to be looked at differently than adults, and they need to be judged differently than adults, because they are different in terms of their maturity and development.”
One of his previous cases was that of a Tucumcari-area teen accused in the 2012 death of his adoptive mother and sister. That case was resolved in 2014 after a weeklong hearing that determined the defendant was amenable to treatment as a juvenile rather than being sentenced to prison as an adult.
That teen was committed to the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department until age 21. Taylor said he hopes for a similar resolution to Jouett’s case. Prosecutors want to see Jouett sentenced as an adult.
New Mexico is relatively unique for not holding hearings aimed at determining whether youthful offenders – ages 15, 16 or 17 – are amenable to treatment as juveniles until they are transferred into the adult criminal judicial system, Taylor said.
Jouett could face such a hearing if he pleads guilty or is convicted of a lesser charge. If convicted of first-degree murder, he would be sentenced as an adult.
Taylor argued research shows children and adolescents are impulsive, and their brains are not fully developed.
“This is a tragedy, and this is not the kind of situation where we in any way want to diminish what happened on August 28 to the victims in this case,” he said. “What my goal is in this case is to figure out why it happened and to help the people understand why it happened.”
Jouett is accused of opening fire inside the library as parents, children and others hid under tables or behind closed doors. Two library workers were killed, and four others, including a 10-year-old boy, were seriously wounded.
Authorities have said Jouett took two handguns from his family home. A handgun was found on a shelf near Jouett when he surrendered, and another gun was located inside a backpack found at the library, records show.
According to court records, Jouett told investigators he was mad and had been thinking “bad things” for some time. He also told them he initially intended to target his school but somehow ended up at the library.
District Attorney Andrea Reeb said it could take over a year to reach trial, citing the number of victims and the possibility for a change in jurisdiction. She said she will seek the first-degree murder convictions, “even if it means we will have to go to trial to avoid that amenability hearing.”
“The case is very strong, and there’s a lot of evidence for premeditation and things of that nature,” Reeb said. “I definitely feel strongly that the grand jury was proper in indicting him on first-degree murder because there definitely is probable cause.”