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Guilty plea in family deaths

This undated file photo provided by the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department shows Nehemiah Griego, 15. In January 2013, Griego was accused of gunning down five family members, sending shockwaves through Albuquerque¹s law enforcement and religious communities. (AP Photo/Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deptartment, File)

GRIEGO: Could be sentenced as a juvenile or an adult

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nehemiah Griego, who was 15 when he systematically shot and killed five members of his family in their South Valley home nearly three years ago, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death.

Because of his age and terms of his plea, his punishment could range from probation to 120 years in prison. Judge John Romero in Children’s Court in Albuquerque is assigned to the case.

There will be an “amenability hearing” in January, which will determine whether the now-18-year-old will be sentenced as a juvenile or as an adult. If sentenced as a juvenile, he will be committed to the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department until he is 21 years old. If sentenced as an adult, he will face punishment ranging from probation to 120 years, according to a news release from his attorneys.

“The parties believe that this agreement is the best resolution for Mr. Griego and the state, as well as for the victims’ family,” Jeffrey Buckels, one of the defense attorneys in the case, said in a statement.

Nehemiah’s parents, Greg and Sarah Griego, and younger siblings, Zephaniah, Jael and Angelina Griego, were fatally shot in January 2013.

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office officials said at the time that Nehemiah had been planning the shootings for days.

He first shot his mother and 9-year-old brother, Zephaniah, with a .22-caliber rifle at around 1 a.m. on Jan. 19. Then he went into his younger sisters’ room and shot Jael, 5, and Angelina, 2, according to sheriff’s deputies.

After that, he waited for his father, Greg, a former pastor at Calvary Church in Albuquerque, to return home from an overnight shift at an Albuquerque homeless shelter. Nehemiah killed his father with a different rifle.

Greg had purchased the weapons, and Sarah and Nehemiah knew how to use them. The rifles were kept unlocked so Nehemiah could access them in an emergency, according to Journal reports.

Nehemiah pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of his parents and three counts of child abuse resulting in death for fatally shooting his siblings.

He has been in custody since his arrest shortly after the shooting. For the past year and a half, he was been at the Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center, Buckels said.

Buckels said defense attorneys will attempt to have their client sentenced as a juvenile, which would ensure his release from custody at 21. Buckels said he expected prosecutors to seek an adult sentence, though a spokeswoman for the district attorney declined to answer questions about the hearing.

Kayla Anderson, the spokeswoman, said there was no agreement for sentencing.

Buckels said the amenability hearing is expected to last about a week, and will include a number of experts in crime-scene investigation, psychology, psychiatry and brain-scan imaging. Nehemiah’s brain was scanned after the shootings. It’s not clear whether he’s been diagnosed with a mental illness.

“There’s going to be a lot of information for the judge to chew over,” Buckels said.

Buckels said defense attorneys have been in contact with many of his client’s extended family members since the shooting. He said the family didn’t want to see the case go to trial and they support the process of the amenability hearing.

Former state Sen. Eric Griego, Nehemiah’s uncle, directed questions to Buckels on Friday.

In a prior interview with the Journal, several surviving members of the family said they wanted Nehemiah to be tried as a juvenile.

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