'The children really had a rough time' - Albuquerque Journal

‘The children really had a rough time’

Jordan Nunez sits in court during his sentencing hearing for taking part in the torture and death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia in Nambé in 2018. The three-day sentencing hearing got underway in First District Court in Santa Fe, Oct. 12, 2021. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)


Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Jordan Nunez’s childhood was marked by severe abuse and nearly a dozen temporary homes that led ultimately to a house in Nambé where he helped torture and kill a 13-year-old boy in 2017, witnesses testified at his sentencing hearing Thursday.

Nunez, 23, faces 14 to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty in March 2020 to charges connected to the beating death of Jeremiah Valencia.

Dr. Jeffrey Rowe, a psychiatrist, testified that he interviewed babysitters who reported that they often found the infant Nunez and his sister hungry, filthy and with severe diaper rash.

“The children really had a rough time that first six years of life,” said Rowe, a child psychiatrist hired by Nunez’s attorneys.

Abuse and neglect prompted the state to remove the children from their biological parents. By age 11, Nunez had lived in 11 different placements, including foster homes, shelters and psychiatric facilities, Rowe testified.

“He was getting shifted all over the place,” Rowe said. Mental health experts consider six or more placements to be a serious risk factor for mental health problems, “particularly in the ability to form a secure relationship.”

His biological father, Thomas Ferguson, fathered five children with Nunez’s mother, but only Nunez and one sister lived in Ferguson’s household for a significant length of time.

Ferguson killed himself in the Santa Fe County Jail in April 2018 while awaiting trial in connection with Jeremiah’s killing.

Prosecutors allege that Nunez participated in Jeremiah’s abuse and delivered the final blow that killed the boy around Nov. 25, 2017, by repeatedly flipping a dog crate in which the boy was confined.

Nunez pleaded guilty to one count of recklessly permitting child abuse resulting in death and two counts of tampering with evidence for helping bury the body.

Jeremiah was confined in the 26×39-inch dog kennel following a beating from Ferguson that was so severe it broke the boys jaw in two places, causing the bone to break through the boy’s gums.

The methamphetamine-fueled abuse that Ferguson meted out for weeks to Jeremiah evoked painful memories for Nunez of his own childhood abuse by the same man, Rowe testified.

In 2008, when Nunez was about 10, he and his four sisters were adopted by their grandparents and lived with the family in Hereford, Texas.

But, when Nunez turned 18, he abruptly moved to New Mexico to live first with his mother in Clovis, then with Ferguson in Nambé about June 2017. Rowe said the move was motivated by a desperate need to form a relationship with his biological father.

“Jordan (Nunez) has been looking for somebody who is going to be a father figure, and a mother figure, for many years,” he testified.

But life with Ferguson worsened in fall 2017 as Ferguson’s use of methamphetamine became increasingly heavy and his abuse of Jeremiah more severe.

Prosecutors said the abuse included beatings, attaching a shock collar around the boy’s thigh, dropping a heavy hammer on his hands and throwing a homemade spear that injured the boy in several places.

Attorneys for Nunez argue that he was too intimidated by Ferguson to stand up for the boy.

But prosecutors allege that Nunez had opportunities to alert authorities to the worsening abuse, but did nothing, and even helped bury the body.

Dr. David Salsberg, a child psychologist who testified for the prosecution, said Nunez had access to a phone, used Facebook frequently and could leave the house.

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