There is so much tragedy in the death of 13-year-old Jeremiah.
When he was killed, apparently in late November at a Nambé house where he was part of a household with his mother, his sister, his mother’s boyfriend and the boyfriend’s young-adult son – he had fallen off society’s radar. He wasn’t attending school and no one – not school officials or child services authorities – was looking for him.
There was no one to raise the alarm about a missing boy after Jeremiah’s body was stuffed into a storage container and buried in a rural area for nearly two months before his mother, a frequent flier at the county jail, was overheard talking about his death while she was incarcerated.
Her boyfriend, Thomas Ferguson, subsequently charged with Jeremiah’s murder, shouldn’t have been free and available to beat up or kill anyone.
As has been well documented by the Journal, Ferguson should have been thrown in prison for a probation violation long before Jeremiah died. Ferguson had pleaded guilty to a new domestic violence count in Rio Rancho even as he was free, but on probation for a prior conviction in a case where he’d been accused of beating and raping a woman in Santa Fe.
But a cascade of errors, miscommunication and non-action by people in New Mexico’s criminal justice system left Ferguson out in the world, free to head the dysfunctional household where Jeremiah was allegedly tortured and made to stay in a dog kennel before he was killed.
None of the prosecutors or probation officers whose mistakes or oversights kept Ferguson free will face any kind of official action, or even questioning, at least as far as the public knows – there’s no system of accountability on that side of the law, apparently.
Now Ferguson has committed suicide in the county jail. That’s another tragedy, for a lot of reasons.
There’s the loss of a man’s life, of course. But Ferguson’s death also means justice in Jeremiah’s death will be harder to obtain.
So far, most of the evidence – in the form of statements by the remaining members of the Nambé family group – points to Ferguson as the killer and also as a maniacal torturer who used things like a heavy hammer to beat and torture Jeremiah to the point that he had to use a cane to walk before he was beaten to death.
But there is also evidence – in the form of Facebook messages posted before Jeremiah’s death was discovered – that Ferguson’s son, 20-year-old Jordan Nunez, may have played a role beyond witnessing what happened and helping to bury the body. With Ferguson gone, it will be more difficult to get a full picture of what really took place in that Nambé house.
There are now also new questions about how the criminal justice system worked (or didn’t work) in this sad case.
Should precautions at the jail have been taken to make sure Ferguson couldn’t hang himself with a sheet? Should jail personnel have known that Ferguson is said to have tried to kill himself to avoid arrest in the 2014 beating and rape case, and taken more anti-suicide precautions with him this time around?
Why does it take more than two weeks to file an order for a prisoner to be transferred from the county jail to the state Corrections Department? In this case, that was too little, too late. Ferguson’s long-delayed imprisonment for a probation violation had finally been decreed, but he killed himself before he could be transferred.
Santa Fe County officials say they are looking into what happened at the jail.
Maybe the real question is: What else can go wrong in the tragic case of Jeremiah Valencia, even after the end of his short life?