Court of Appeals hears case of man who killed parents, 3 siblings
January 24, 2018 06:15 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The future of the 20-year-old who shot and killed his five family members is now in the hands of three appellate court judges.
Nehemiah Griego was 15 when he committed those crimes five years ago, but he's not a teen anymore. In less than two months, Griego turns 21 and returns to society with zero oversight.
The Court of Appeals on Wednesday heard oral arguments regarding Griego's case. The appellate court could either overturn the trial court's decision that allowed Griego's release in March, or it could keep things as is and allow Griego to be released from custody.
The murders shocked the community, leaving many to wonder how a 15-year-old kill his mother, father, and three siblings. Soon after, then-District Attorney Kari Brandenburg struck a plea deal and reduced the first-degree murder charges down to second degree.
"The district attorney's office should have never pled the case down from a first degree down to a second degree," state Attorney General Hector Balderas said.
The plea deal ensured Griego would not be sent to an adult prison after his release from CYFD at the age of 21. The lesser murder charges kept him in children's court where he was entitled to an amenability hearing.
During that hearing, Judge John Romero determined Griego was amenable to treatment while in CYFD custody. By law, CYFD custody ends when the youth turns 21. Griego's birthday March 20.
In Wednesday's appellate court hearing, Balderas' office argued Romero didn't take in some serious legal factors when he made his ruling such as the brutality of the crimes.
"The court didn't make any findings and ignored the testimony of the offenses," said John Woykovsky, who works with the Attorney General's Office. "It made no reference to Nehemiah's statements that he decided to kills his family after his mother yelled at him a lot that day. It made no references to the text messages to his girlfriend from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., saying he was waiting for his mother to fall asleep, at which point he was going to kill her and the rest of the family."
Griego's attorney Theodosia Johnson argued Romero did consider all the facts and listened to Griego's therapists.
"Doctor Fields specifically noted on Jan 15 during his testimony that at the time the risk to the public was very low. His actual words were very low," Johnson said.
Outside the courtroom, there is a bigger concern: whether the community is at risk when Griego is released.
"I personally would to see Nehemiah stay behind bars," said Vanessa Lightbourne, Griego surviving sister. "I think he is a danger to society. I think he is a danger to our family. I think he hasn't done what he needs to do to actually rehabilitate. It's a concern."
What leads her to believe he may not be fully rehabilitated?
"I think just the some of things he told me when I would visit him in jail," she replied. The reason I stopped talking to him was because he said things that were not right. That leads me to believe he does not have a change in his heart."
Balderas said he's been in contact with CYFD and New Mexico State Police about some of the things Griego may have said but couldn't elaborate on the details.
"I believe due to the violent nature of this case that there is a threat to public safety and there is a dramatic need for treatment in this case," he said. "We are doing all we can to state this in the record."
Updated: January 24, 2018 06:15 PM
Created: January 24, 2018 07:26 AM
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