ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico teenager who pleaded guilty to killing his parents and three siblings can be rehabilitated and should not be sentenced as an adult, his public defender argued Monday.
Nehemiah Griego, 18, has made progress at a state psychiatric treatment center, attorney Stephen Taylor said as a weeklong hearing to determine Griego's fate got underway. Investigators, witnesses and psychology experts are expected to take the stand.
Griego was 15 when authorities say he fatally shot his family at their home south of Albuquerque in January 2013. He pleaded guilty in state children's court in October to two counts of second-degree murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death.
Sheriff's officials said the teen told detectives after the killings that he was angry with his mother and had been having homicidal and suicidal thoughts.
Prosecutors did not deliver opening statements, but some family members sent a letter to the judge and the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1nbkZQv ) in support of sentencing Griego as an adult. They expressed concerns about their own safety and that of the public.
"Nehemiah has not expressed any remorse and ... (he) possessed the mental capacity to know right from wrong at the time of the murders and was fully cognizant of his murderous action," the letter says.
Taylor said Griego's father beat him and the abuse likely caused a traumatic brain injury that affected the teen.
Neel Madan, a clinical radiologist and neurologist at Tufts Medical Center, testified that a scan of Griego's brain doesn't prove he suffered traumatic brain injury or hemorrhaging.
However, Madan cautioned that it isn't possible to completely rule out any diagnosis from the MRI alone — including mental illness or even brain injury.
Griego's sentencing terms could range from probation to three life sentences plus 30 years if he is sentenced as an adult, attorneys have said. If he's sentenced as a juvenile, he would theoretically remain in the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department until he is 21.
His parents, Greg and Sarah Griego, were well-known throughout the community for more than a decade of ministry work with inmates at the county jail. Greg Griego, an Army veteran, also was a pastor at one of Albuquerque's largest Christian churches and was a volunteer chaplain with the local fire department.
After the killings, authorities alleged that Griego reloaded his parents' two semi-automatic rifles and put them in the family van and planned to gun down Wal-Mart shoppers, though investigators had no information that Griego actually went to a Wal-Mart the day of the shooting.
A security official said Griego spent much of the day at his church after the shooting, wandering the campus as dozens of Sunday school teachers were being trained on how to deal with a shooter.
In the weeks after the killings, family members described the boy as a normal teenager who was close to his family, loved wrestling with his father and brother, and played in the church youth band.