Jordan Nunez sentenced to 21 years in death of 13-year-old boy - Albuquerque Journal

Jordan Nunez sentenced to 21 years in death of 13-year-old boy

Jordan Nunez walks to the podium to make a statement to the court on Friday. He was later sentenced to 21 years in prison. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A judge sentenced Jordan Nunez to 21 years in prison Friday in the beating death of a 13-year-old boy following weeks of torture and confinements.

Nunez, 23, pleaded guilty in 2020 to one count of recklessly permitting child abuse resulting in death and two counts of tampering with evidence in the November 2017 death of Jeremiah Valencia at a house in Nambé.

The judge accepted the prosecution argument that Nunez had been an active participant in weeks of beatings and confinement that led to Jeremiah’s death.

Nunez had seen Jeremiah hobbling on a cane with severe injuries, 1st Judicial District Judge Matthew Wilson said before passing sentence.

Nunez also witnessed a severe beating in the hours before the boy’s death, and watched the boy confined to a dog crate, Wilson noted.

“Despite all of this, the defendant did nothing to stop the abuse,” Wilson said Friday following a four-day sentencing hearing.

The question of Nunez’s involvement in the severe abuse meted out to Jeremiah in the weeks leading to his death has dominated much of the hearing.

Both defense and prosecution attorneys agree that Nunez’s father, Thomas Ferguson, gave the boy increasingly severe beatings and punishments that resulted in the boy’s death around Nov. 25, 2017.

Ferguson killed himself in the Santa Fe County jail in 2018 and was never tried in connection with Jeremiah’s death. Tracy Ann Pena, Jeremiah’s mother and Ferguson’s girlfriend, earlier pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death.

Ferguson’s worsening abuse of Jeremiah coincided with his increased use of methamphetamine in fall 2017, witnesses testified this week.

Nunez himself referenced his father in a statement to the court prior to his sentencing.

“I hoped that moving down here to get to know my father and forgiving him would help me to get to know myself and help me fix what felt broken inside,” a sobbing Nunez said as members of Jeremiah’s family listened.

“I want you to know I am truly sorry for my failure to call 911,” he said. “That’s a fact I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Celine Miera, right, the aunt of Jeremiah Valencia, hugs Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias after the sentencing of Jordan Nunez at First District Court in Santa Fe Friday. Nunez was sentenced to 21 years in prison for his part in the death of 13-year-old Valencia. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Jeremiah’s aunt, Celine Miera, rejected Nunez’s apology Friday, saying it sounded “rehearsed” and insincere.

“There’s no way to apologize for the things that happened,” Miera said. “I’m happy with the outcome. I feel justice has been served today.”

Nunez received 18 years for the first count of recklessly permitting child abuse resulting in death. Wilson ruled the crime is a serious violent offense, which requires that Nunez serve at least 85% of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Nunez had faced up to 24 years in prison, but Wilson merged two counts of tampering with evidence into a single count, essentially reducing the sentence by three years.

Both tampering counts resulted from efforts to stuff the boy’s body in a plastic container and bury it in a shallow grave.

Prosecutors argued that Nunez had the means and opportunity to alert police to the abuse taking place in the Nambé home.

Defense attorneys countered that then-19-year-old Nunez himself had been severely abused by Ferguson as a boy and feared for his life if he challenged his father’s actions.

Ferguson’s behavior became increasingly violent and irrational as his use of meth increased, Nunez’s attorney, Theresa Duncan, said in her closing argument.

Ferguson “used fear and intimidation to rope that family into his horrendous, horrendous crimes,” Duncan said. “Everyone in that house was too scared to intervene.”

Ferguson’s abuse of Jeremiah caused “flashbacks” for Nunez, who himself had been severely abused by Ferguson in his first years of life, she said.

A child psychiatrist who testified for the defense this week diagnosed Nunez with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of that early abuse, hindering Nunez’s ability to stand up to his intimidating father.

“The impact of his early abuse was still operating on (Nunez),” Duncan said.

But a child psychologist for the prosecution rejected the PTSD diagnosis and testified Friday that Nunez had the opportunity and the capacity to alert police to Jeremiah’s abuse.

Prosecutors also argued that Nunez dealt the final blow that killed Jeremiah by flipping the dog crate in which the boy was confined following a severe beating from Ferguson.

The beating, which immediately preceded Jeremiah’s death, broke his jaw in two places, causing the bone to protrude through the gums.

Nunez has acknowledged that he knocked on or shook the crate, but denied he flipped it, his attorney said in closing statements.

Shaking of the dog crate was “undeniably reckless behavior, but it was not done to harm Jeremiah,” Duncan said.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies argued Friday that Nunez had enough command over his actions to seek help for Jeremiah.

She noted that at age 18, Nunez had left the supportive home of his adoptive family in Texas and sought out his biological father, whom he knew to be violent and abusive.

Nunez had the opportunity to leave Ferguson’s house, had access to a phone, and routinely used Facebook, but chose not to contact police, she said.

“These opportunities were available to Jordan (Nunez),” Carmack-Altwies said. “He didn’t do anything to protect Jeremiah.”


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