Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Nearly seven years after he killed his parents and three young siblings – shooting his mother while she slept, then turning the rifle on his brother and two sisters before lying in wait for hours to ambush his father after he returned from work – Nehemiah Griego was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
In a 16-page sentencing memorandum and decision filed in 2nd Judicial District Court on Friday, Judge Alisa Hart ruled that Griego, now 22, should serve three concurrent life sentences for child abuse resulting in the death of his three siblings, ages 2 to 9. She also sentenced him to seven years for killing each of his parents. Those sentences will run concurrent to one another but consecutive to the life sentences.
The state had requested the maximum penalty of 120 years.
Griego will get credit for the 2,476 days – six years and 285 days – he’s already spent behind bars.
In all, he will serve 30 years, before he could be released on parole.
Judge Hart’s decision comes a little more than two weeks after an all-day hearing in which Griego’s remaining family members and parents’ friends, law enforcement, defense attorneys and prosecutors argued over how much, if any, prison time he should serve. Griego also addressed the court and apologized to his three older sisters and thanked his aunts and uncles for standing by him.
In her ruling, Hart laments that a facility does not exist in the state that would provide treatment for Griego while at the same time ensuring he could not escape and commit future acts of violence.
In an emailed statement, Griego’s public defender, Stephen Taylor, referenced these statements.
“The judge here is saying that she would have been willing to give Nehemiah probation in a locked treatment facility, but that treatment doesn’t exist in New Mexico,” he wrote. “That forced her to place Nehemiah ‘with the most serious violent offenders’ in a prison system where he won’t receive the trauma-informed treatment that has proven to work for young offenders. And you’ll notice she called the choice to send him to prison ‘distressing.'”
Prosecutors, however, praised the sentence.
“Now that this defendant will no longer threaten the safety of our community, we should turn our attention to helping those directly affected by his tragedy,” Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email.
Griego was nearly free on his 21st birthday in March 2018.
A Children’s Court judge initially found Griego, who was 15 when he killed his family, to be amenable to treatment and sentenced him as a juvenile after he pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of intentional child abuse resulting in death.
However the Attorney General’s Office appealed that decision, and 11 days before Griego was set to be released from state custody the New Mexico Court of Appeals ordered the judge to hold another hearing and take into account the violent and grisly nature of his crimes.
Five days into that hearing, the Children’s Court judge recused himself from the case after having a conversation with a defense expert witness.
It was reassigned to Judge Hart and in August she determined Griego should be sentenced as an adult.
‘Too great a risk’
Throughout the many hearings held in this case, Taylor, Griego’s attorney, has argued his client was subjected to “significant abuse, isolation and the glorification of violence” as a child. Furthermore pretty much everyone agrees that Griego has been committed to treatment while in juvenile detention and “was open to changing his ideas and behavior,” according to the sentencing memorandum.
At last month’s sentencing hearing, Taylor highlighted the lack of services and mental health treatment in the prison system and instead urged Hart to sentence Griego to probation and send him to an out-of-state program that would continue his treatment.
However, Hart ultimately decided that option would “put society at too great a risk” since he would not be under lock and key.
Therefore, she wrote, “the court essentially has no choice but to protect society at the expense of defendant’s continued trauma-informed treatment since such a targeted, sophisticated treatment is not available in the Department of Corrections. A sentence that addresses punishment and provides for the immediate protection of society, based on defendant’s current level of rehabilitation, will likely undo the work accomplished through the juvenile system and place the public at greater risk in the future. The Court recognizes the failings created by the sentencing option of incarceration and would much prefer a different alternative that would allow for continued treatment in a locked setting, if one existed.”
Since that kind of treatment option doesn’t exist, Hart sentenced Griego to three life sentences served simultaneously. Under the sentencing guidelines he must serve at least 30 years, without the possibility of good time credit, before he can have the option of parole.
“In a case such as this, a parole review is necessary as protection to ensure release only at a point when the public will not be subjected to an unreasonable risk of violence,” Hart wrote. “Consequently, defendant’s sentence will include a life sentence with the possibility of parole.”