New Mexico man to be sentenced in fatal beating of boy

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors in New Mexico are seeking the maximum sentence of 24 years for a man who pleaded guilty to recklessly permitting child abuse in the beating death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia in 2017.

Jordan Anthony Nuñez, 22, pleaded guilty in March 2020 to one count of recklessly permitting child abuse resulting in death and two counts of tampering with evidence, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Nuñez is accused of helping his father, Thomas Wayne Ferguson, torture and kill Valencia in November 2017 while the boy’s mother, Tracy Ann Peña, was jailed on a probation violation. Authorities said the boy’s body was found buried in a plastic container along a roadside in Nambé in January 2018.

An autopsy and investigation revealed the boy was severely beaten, and he was confined in a dog kennel before his death.

Ferguson was facing a murder charge in the case, but he killed himself in the Santa Fe County jail in April 2018, authorities said. Pena was also charged and is currently serving a 12-year sentence under a plea deal.

Prosecutors turned to Nuñez after Ferguson’s death, alleging he participated in the beatings and watched as his father assaulted the boy.

Mark Earnest, a defense attorney representing Nuñez, has maintained he did not beat the boy and that his actions did not amount to a serious violent crime. Earnest is seeking the minimum prison sentence of 14 years, citing Nuñez was 19 at the time of the crime and did not have a criminal history.

Earnest also argued that two counts of tampering with evidence should be merged into one, reducing the maximum possible sentence to 21 years. Prosecutors disagreed in a request to deny the merger.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias declined to comment.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday. Sentencing is scheduled in June.