SANTA FE – The mother of a 13-year-old boy tortured, killed and buried in a plastic crate near his home in Nambé in 2017 was sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for her role in her son’s death.
Tracy Anne Pena, 38, on Monday formally pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in the death of her son, Jeremiah Valencia, as well as three counts of trafficking methamphetamine as part of a plea agreement reached two years ago.
District Judge Matthew J. Wilson accepted the plea, which called for a 21-year sentence, with nine years suspended, due to Pena’s cooperation with prosecutors in case. Pena will spend two years on parole and five years on probation.
Pena, who was credited with 985 days for time already served, could spend much less time in prison with good time credit.
“If all goes well, she’ll get less than four years,” public defender Michael Rosenfield, who represented Pena, said in a brief phone interview.
Pena was in jail on a probation violation when her son was killed, presumably by her boyfriend, Thomas Ferguson, who committed suicide in April 2018 at the Santa Fe County jail while awaiting trial on murder charges. When she was released, she learned her son was dead and later led police to the spot where he had been buried.
Ferguson’s son, Jordan Nunez, was present when Valenica was killed and in March pleaded guilty for his part in the crime. He is facing 14 to 24 years in prison. According to testimony, Nunez took part in the abuse against Valencia, who in the days before his death was kept in a dog crate. According to Valencia’s little sister, Nunez would repeatedly flip the crate with Valencia inside.
At Monday’s hearing, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett read a victim impact statement written by Celine Miera, Valencia’s aunt and godmother, who asked the judge to give Pena the maximum sentence.
“How could this own biological mother just sit there and let this torture continue on and on?” Miera wrote. “This is a selfish person whose only concern was getting that next drug fix and to keep her newest boyfriend happy.”
Miera said the 12-year sentence was just a slap on the wrist. “How can this be justice?”
In an emailed response to questions from the Journal, Padgett said there’s never really justice when a child dies under such horrific circumstances.
“For so many affected by Jeremiah’s death, this will never be enough … I absolutely understand that,” she said.
Padgett said there were many failings in the case.
“Every social ill imaginable contributed to this tragedy,” she said. “Drug abuse, domestic violence, prolific criminal behavior, violence and paranoia, poverty, gaps in the systems designed to protect children, gaps in the systems to keep violent offenders off the street, and the reluctance or fear to notify authorities – everything.”