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Court revisits fate of New Mexico man who killed 5 as a teen

December 3, 2018
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District Court Judge John Romero, left, listens to defense attorney Stephen Taylor, right, at the amenability hearing for Nehemiah Griego, center, who as a 15-year-old killed his parents and three young siblings, in Children's Court in Albuquerque, N.M. on Monday, December 3, 2018. The weeklong hearing for Griego is meant to determine whether he has been rehabilitated while in state custody and is prepared for release. (Greg Sorber/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico prosecutor placed scrutiny Monday on how authorities perceived the demeanor of a man who, as a 15-year-old, had just fatally shot his parents and three young siblings in a rampage at their home south of Albuquerque.

Diana Garcia of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office peppered a former sheriff’s deputy during a court hearing with questions about his interview with Nehemiah Griego after the 2013 killings. The ex-deputy, Kyle Hartsock, said he found Griego showed little emotion.

“He was just sitting there calmly like he is today,” Hartsock said.

This week’s hearing for Griego, now 21, is to determine whether he has been psychologically rehabilitated after receiving years of treatment in the state’s juvenile justice system. It is the second such hearing for Griego, who three years ago pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death in the shootings.

State Children’s Court Judge John Romero determined in 2016 that Griego had proven receptive to treatment and could be sentenced as a juvenile, setting him up for release when he turned 21. But the New Mexico Court of Appeals ordered Romero to hold another hearing after the state Attorney General’s Office appealed his decision.

A video of the 2013 interview played in court Monday showed a lanky Griego often staring at the floor and offering short answers in response to the deputy’s questions.

“I completely turned off my conscious, I really did,” Griego told Hartsock. “I just let the beast come out.”

Romero must consider a range of factors in deciding whether Griego can again be sentenced as a juvenile, including the violent nature of the offense and Griego’s maturity level at the time of the crime.

A central question will be whether Griego — who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder while in state custody — has made enough progress in his treatment to re-enter society.

Witnesses this week could include therapists, teachers and other state workers who will speak about his treatment — though that testimony is largely expected to remain sealed. On Monday, only a limited group of people — including the judge, a small group of Griego’s relatives and attorneys — were allowed to listen to opening arguments made on his behalf because they included information about his treatment.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, focused largely on details of the crime and a dark exchange Griego had with his then 12-year-old girlfriend via text message leading up to the shooting. In the text message, Griego told the girl before opening fire that he was waiting for his mother to fall asleep, authorities said.

Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies said Griego began his January 2013 rampage in his parents’ bedroom, where he shot his mother as she slept. He then shot his 9-year-old brother and two sisters, ages 5 and 2.

Griego’s father, a reformed gang member and former pastor at an Albuquerque megachurch, was ambushed by his son as he returned home, authorities said.

Griego’s lawyers have spotlighted descriptions of Griego’s isolating and abusive home life. He was homeschooled and rarely had the opportunity to socialize outside church functions, his attorney said. His father trained the teen to use his guns and tasked him with patrolling their property.

In the past, Griego’s lawyers have presented testimony indicating he endured abuse and malnourishment so severe as a child that he suffered brain damage.

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