Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
A teen accused of killing his young cousin now faces charges for sexually assaulting her.
Jeremiah Morfin, 17, will face trial for first-degree murder, criminal sexual penetration of a minor under 13, child abuse resulting in death and three counts of tampering with evidence.
Morfin is accused of raping his 9-year-old cousin during a sleepover at his house in January 2019, killing her and dumping her body in a nearby drainage tunnel. Morfin’s attorney denies that a sexual assault occurred.
On Wednesday, 2nd Judicial District Court Judge Daniel Gallegos determined there was enough probable cause for Morfin to face trial on the charges.
“The state has alleged and has put forth sufficient information, at least at the probable cause stage, that the defendant committed the act of sexual penetration and the act of murder,” Gallegos said.
Morfin was 15 when the alleged crimes occurred but is being tried as an adult.
According to court documents, Morfin’s mother called police to report that her niece was missing and her son was acting strangely. Morfin later led officers to a drainage tunnel in an arroyo less than half a mile from his house, where they found the girl’s body partly clothed and wrapped in a blanket. Investigators say she died of strangulation and blunt-force trauma.
Morfin was indicted on murder and child abuse charges in January 2019. Police had previously said the girl may also have been sexually assaulted, but Morfin was not initially charged with sex crimes.
The 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed an amended criminal information in October that added a criminal sexual penetration charge. Prosecutor Imad Awad said Wednesday that the victim had an injury consistent with sexual assault.
The preliminary hearing for the amended criminal information, where a judge decides whether there is enough probable cause for the case to proceed to trial, started Nov. 30 and included testimony from an Office of the Medical Investigator doctor, a DNA analyst, two Albuquerque Police Department detectives and an APD officer.
On Wednesday, attorneys argued over whether Morfin should be charged with felony murder, which is a homicide committed while the defendant is committing a different felony and is treated like first-degree murder.
Awad argued that Morfin strangled the victim while committing the sexual assault. He also said the girl had internal injuries due to Morfin’s stomping on her.
Martin Juarez, Morfin’s attorney, said Morfin should not be charged with felony murder because the girl did not die as a result of sexual assault.
But Gallegos agreed with Awad and bound over a charge of first-degree murder.