ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico man convicted of killing his parents and three younger siblings when he was 15 apologized to the rest of his family Tuesday as he asked a judge for an opportunity at rehabilitation and redemption.
Nehemiah Griego, now 22, was the last person to address the court during an emotional daylong sentencing hearing. He expressed remorse for the 2013 killings, saying he was a different person at the time.
“I am sorry,” he told his older sisters who were among those in the packed courtroom. “I wish I could take it back, but the reality is that we can’t.”
Griego pleaded guilty to the crimes in 2015 and a judge earlier this year determined he should be sentenced as an adult following an appeal of an early sentence handed down by a children’s court judge.
Describing the killings as callous and calculated, prosecutors argued that Griego should spend the rest of his life in prison.
“These killings were not an accident. They were not done to defend himself, to defend his family or anyone else,” prosecutor Mari Martinez told the judge. “They were methodically plotted and carried out in cold-blood.”
Two of Griego’s sisters made tearful pleas, saying they want their brother to remain locked up, under heavy guard, where he can get the mental health treatment he needs. They say he has shown no remorse and if let out could hurt himself or others.
Griego sat in an orange jumpsuit, his head hung low as the sisters testified. He later broke down, wiping tears from his face during a break in the proceeding as well as when he addressed the court.
Defense attorney Stephen Taylor said there are several factors that the court should consider, not just the heinousness of the crime. He argued that Griego can be reformed and has made progress while in state custody.
State District Judge Alisa Hart heard testimony from family members who have tried to help Griego in recent years, detectives who investigated the case, a child psychologist and other experts.
It’s unclear how soon she could make a decision on what his punishment will be. Griego faces up to 120 years in prison.
The case has taken many twists and turns, prompting hearings and appeals over Griego’s progress and mental health treatment while in custody and arguments over whether he should be sentenced as a juvenile or an adult.
That argument was settled earlier this year when Hart determined that Griego was not amenable to treatment as a juvenile.
Over the years, Griego’s lawyers have presented testimony indicating their client endured abuse and neglect, claims that some relatives corroborated and others disputed during Tuesday’s hearing. While in state custody, Griego also was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Prosecutors have focused on the chilling details of the killings, arguing that Griego should serve a maximum of three consecutive life sentences plus another 30 years, ensuring he would never be released.
Sheriff’s deputies have said the shooting rampage began in his parents’ bedroom, where he shot his mother as she slept. He then shot his brother and two sisters — ages 9, 5 and 2.
Griego’s father, a reformed gang member and pastor at an Albuquerque megachurch, was shot and killed hours later when Griego ambushed him as he returned home, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Griego also had plans to commit a mass shooting at a public place and had loaded guns into the family van in preparation. He ended up meeting his 12-year-old girlfriend instead.
In 2016, a children’s court judge found that Griego showed he was treatable, placing him on track for release on his 21st birthday after he received two more years of therapy. The New Mexico Court of Appeals overturned that decision in 2018.
After turning 21, Griego was transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque pending the outcome of his case.
Despite the concerns of some relatives, Griego’s attorneys are hopeful he can be sentenced to probation and continued treatment.
Taylor suggested during the hearing that mental health services are lacking within the prison system. He read a letter to the judge from Nathaniel Jouett, another teen who was sentenced earlier this year to decades in prison for a deadly shooting at a New Mexico library.
In the letter, the 18-year-old Jouett writes that he was taken off his medication and is now “surrounded by violence, drugs and negativity.”
“I’m having to rehabilitate myself,” Jouett wrote.
Taylor said he didn’t want this to happen to Griego and asked the judge for a “creative solution” that would allow for continued rehabilitation.
By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
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