Jeremiah’s relatives in bail hearing again Tuesday in Santa Fe
A hearing to determine whether two defendants in the death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia will be released from jail to await trial has been so arduous that it needs at least two days to complete.
Day 1, on Sept. 5, took nearly eight hours.
Wednesday’s proceedings could be nearly as lengthy, with testimony expected from family members of the defendants, including the sister of the victim.
Jeremiah’s mother, Tracy Ann Peña and Jordan Nuñez, the son of Peña’s boyfriend, face charges of child abuse and tampering with evidence in relation to the boy’s death in November 2017. Thomas Ferguson, Peña’s boyfriend and Nuñez’s father, was arrested in January and later charged with killing the boy, who police believe was routinely and savagely beaten in the days and weeks before he died.
Nuñez’s lawyers have argued his role in Jeremiah’s abuse was driven by his fear of Ferguson, who also is alleged to have abused Nuñez as a boy. In the first hearing, they told District Judge Matthew Wilson they expect to call two of Nuñez’s relatives to the stand.
Nuñez defense also is expected to call Jeremiah’s 13-year-old sister, who witnessed the alleged abuse. Before the hearings, prosecutors fought to keep the girl from having to testify, arguing that speaking about the case so soon would set her back in dealing with the trauma.
Defense attorneys argued that, as an eyewitness, she has firsthand knowledge of what kinds of actions her mother took to shield the boy from abuse, plus details about Nuñez’s character and more.
Ultimately, a judge ruled that the defense, under “due process concepts” could call the girl to the stand.
Prosecutors from the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office asked the court for permission to allow the girl to hold something in her lap, like a small stuffed animal, for comfort when she testifies, and to allow a support person to sit somewhere near the girl, provided that they don’t have any contact or interactions during the testimony.
The defense agreed to both.
Ferguson died in a suicide in the Santa Fe County jail in April, and prosecutors now argue evidence in the case actually points to Nuñez as the culprit who delivered the fatal blow to Jeremiah.
In the hearing’s first day, prosecutors from the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office argued Nuñez, 20, should be kept in jail pending trial — painting a picture of a violent young man with a criminal past who bragged about killing Jeremiah.
In court on Sept. 5, prosecutors said Valencia’s young sister told investigators Nuñez delivered the killing blow to Jeremiah when he was trapped in a dog kennel “whimpering from a beating he had received the night prior.” They also showed Facebook messages they argue show Nuñez taking credit for, even bragging about, the boy’s death.
In one message, prosecutors referenced Facebook messages in which Nuñez told a friend he “did some dirt” and “took something off the map,” which a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s detective said is slang for getting rid of or eliminating something.
Prosecutors also argued Peña enabled the beating of her son, and played audio recordings between her and Ferguson in which she openly discusses his abuse of Jeremiah.
Defense attorneys are expected to try to convince Wilson of a very different narrative in the case.
Peña’s defense attorney, Michael Rosenfeld, told the court in the previous hearing that she suffers from dissociative disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the disorder is characterized by a person’s “involuntary escape from reality,” created by a disconnect in thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. People with dissociative disorder typically develop it after experiencing trauma of some sort, the website says.
Rosenfeld argued there isn’t proof that Peña would be dangerous to the community if released, and said caseworkers want to get her into substance abuse and mental illness programs if she is released from jail.
On Wednesday, Peña’s attorney is expected to call an expert to the stand, who will discuss different facilities where Peña can seek treatment if she is released from jail.