The mystery of Nehemiah Griego, the home-schooled teenager who three years ago fatally shot his sleeping mother, 9-year-old brother, sisters ages 5 and 2 and father – in that order – may become less opaque this week.
Judge John J. Romero, the presiding children’s judge in 2nd Judicial District Court, is set to conduct a proceeding under the New Mexico Children’s Code to decide if Griego is “amenable” to treatment and can be sentenced as a juvenile, or if he is not amenable and should be sentenced as an adult.
That means Griego, who was 15 at the time of the crimes, could get probation or spend his life in prison.
The tragedy has split much of his extended family. A local aunt and uncle support a juvenile sentence and treatment for Griego, but his grandfather, older sister and other family members are urging the judge to impose an adult prison sentence.
As a juvenile, the state loses jurisdiction when Griego turns 21, three years from now.
If Romero finds him not to be amenable, he can impose an adult sentence consistent with Griego’s guilty plea last October to two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death – up to four life sentences, or 120 years.
Sentencing won’t happen until after the amenability hearing, a sort of minitrial at which at least some of the unanswered questions about the lead-up to the horrifying events of Jan. 19, 2013, may be answered.
The cast of witnesses expected to testify has been whittled down to fit within the allotted week, but among the more interesting might be the therapists and teachers who have been treating Griego at Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center for the past year and a half.
It has been clear since the killings that Griego was “troubled,” at a minimum, despite outward indications to the contrary. He was very active in the youth ministry at Calvary Chapel, where his father, Greg, had been a pastor for many years, until shortly before his death.
Nehemiah Griego was an accomplished drummer, guitarist and bass player, and he played in the youth band. He was a wrestler and loved basketball. He was affectionate with his siblings.
He was described as “a good kid” whose primary eccentricity appeared to be a predilection for dressing in camouflage – apparently because he planned to follow many of his family into military service.
“We all missed the signs. Our family missed the signs. His congregation missed the signs,” Nehemiah’s uncle Eric Griego told Dr. Drew on a nationally televised interview days after the incident.
The prosecution, which is expected to argue that he is not amenable to treatment, will call Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office homicide investigators, the then-12-year-old girl described as Griego’s girlfriend at the time, and her grandmother, among other witnesses.
Expert forensic psychiatrists or neuropsychologists will be called by both sides.
Griego’s aunt and uncle will testify for the defense about their “observations of (their) brother’s family.”
Other members of the extended family, many living in California, are not testifying for the prosecution but sent a letter to the judge and the Journal to say that Nehemiah Griego should be sentenced as an adult. They include Nehemiah’s older sister, Vanessa Lightbourne.
“Nehemiah has not expressed any remorse and … (he) possessed the mental capacity to know right from wrong at the time of the murders and was fully cognizant of his murderous action,” their letter says. They express concern about their own and the public’s safety should Nehemiah be released when he’s 21, and they stress the “calculating” nature of the killings, especially of Greg Griego.
Documents provided by law enforcement after the shootings say Nehemiah had been having homicidal thoughts, was annoyed with his mother and on Jan. 19, 2013, went to an unlocked closet where his father kept weapons for the family’s protection. Both Nehemiah and his mother, Sarah, knew how to use them.
According to those documents, at about 1 a.m., Nehemiah took a .22-caliber rifle and shot his mother and brother Zephaniah, both sleeping in the same bed. Hearing cries of his two younger sisters Jael and Angelina from an adjacent room, he shot them, too.
About five hours later, when his father, Greg Griego, returned from working a shift at a homeless shelter, Nehemiah stepped out of the bathroom and shot him with an assault rifle.
Greg Griego, an Army veteran who had spent time in jail after his discharge, and after dealing with drug addiction and gang affiliation, had reinvented himself as a pastor whose past struggles informed his work.
Law enforcement documents said that, after the shootings, Nehemiah took a picture of his mother and sent it to his girlfriend. Then, he loaded guns into the family van and drove to meet her at Calvary Chapel, the megachurch near Osuna and Jefferson NE.
Over the next half day, he talked to the girlfriend, her grandmother, a church security guard and a pastor, offering them different stories about the deaths of his family members.
It wasn’t until the security guard took Nehemiah back to the family home on Long Lane SW in the South Valley and discovered the scene at the blood-soaked home that law enforcement was called.
Nehemiah was questioned at the sheriff’s office while an older, married sister who was 21 and did not live with the family was denied access to her brother and was waiting to see him. He gave a statement incriminating himself during the hour-and-a-half interview, conducted after he waived the presence of an attorney or adult, according to an earlier news story.
A sheriff’s deputy told the Journal soon after the murders that Nehemiah had apparently made comments consistent with his plan for at least a week prior to the shootings.