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Young killer’s fate remains in limbo after hearing

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

After spending years in custody in the deaths of his parents and three young siblings, Nehemiah Griego was set for release next week. Now he’ll have to wait at least until the end of the week to learn where he’ll stay while the court reconsiders its decision to sentence him as a juvenile – a process that could take several months.

The state Court of Appeals on Friday overturned Judge John Romero’s 2016 decision to sentence Griego as a child, a ruling that made him eligible for release on his 21st birthday, which is March 20. Had he been sentenced as an adult, Griego would have faced up to 120 years in prison.

Stephen Taylor, Griego’s public defender, said Monday that the defense team has not decided whether it will ask the state Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decision.

In a courtroom filled with attorneys, reporters and family members, attorneys argued Monday over whether Romero had jurisdiction to hear two requests filed by the state. One seeks a stay, and one asks the court to hold Griego without bail pending resolution of his case.

Romero ruled that he did have jurisdiction to hear those motions, and he said he hopes to schedule a hearing to do so for the end of the week.

Attorneys also argued over which court rules should apply in his case, something even the judge said was unclear.

“The circumstances of Mr. Griego are unique and, I believe, certainly unseen by this court before,” Romero said. “So I’m not sure how any of the rules fit.”

Griego cannot remain in the custody of the Children Youth and Families Division after March 20, so if the state’s motion for detention is granted, he would likely have to be moved after his birthday to the county jail. Taylor said that for Griego’s safety he could be housed in a segregation unit, which would be detrimental to the rehabilitative progress he’s made in the years since his crime.

“So 23 hours of locked confinement, all by himself, alone, with one hour out, but with no rehabilitation services, no counseling services, none of the services he has been receiving over the last five years,” Taylor said. “We can expect to see him decompensate, deteriorate if he’s placed in those conditions.”

Alternatively, at the next hearing the judge could choose to release Griego or set bail.

Addressing reporters after the hearing, prosecutor James Grayson said he could not comment on the motions to be addressed at the next hearing.