Oct. 16—State District Judge Matthew Wilson sentenced Jordan Nuñez to 21 years in prison Friday for failing to intervene while his father beat and tortured 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia to death in the family's Nambé home in the fall of 2017.
The decision brought to a close one of the most tragic and horrific criminal cases in Northern New Mexico in recent years, punctuated by stomach-turning testimony about the abuse the boy suffered before his death.
Nuñez, who had sat stoically through much of the four-day sentencing hearing, spoke after attorneys made their closing arguments to the judge.
“I'm truly sorry for my failure to call 911, that was one of my biggest mistakes,” he said through tears. “That's something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Lord knows if I could go back and change everything, I would in a heartbeat.”
Wilson rejected arguments made by Nuñez's defense attorneys that his sentence should be significantly mitigated because of his traumatic childhood and fear of his father, who officials said told his family if he ever saw the police coming to their home he would kill them all before officers reached the door.
Nuñez's father, Thomas Wayne Ferguson, was accused of beating and torturing Jeremiah — the son of Ferguson's girlfriend— to death in 2017. Ferguson took his own life in the Santa Fe County jail in 2018 while awaiting trial.
Prosecutors subsequently moved their focus to Nuñez, who was 19 at the time, contending he was a willing accomplice in his father's brutal torment of the boy and the burial of Jeremiah's body in a plastic tub near the family's home.
Ferguson tortured Jeremiah for weeks before his death, according to evidence presented during the hearing — punching him, striking him with a homemade spear and shocking him with an electric dog collar. The boy was so badly injured he couldn't walk or eat.
Jeremiah was often confined in a dog crate, and prosecutors said Nuñez participated in the abuse, violently flipping the crate on the final day of the Jeremiah's life and causing his death.
Nuñez told investigators he shook the crate to determine if Jeremiah was conscious.
Nuñez, 23, pleaded guilty in 2020 to child abuse and two counts of tampering with evidence for his role in the crime, and faced up to 24 years in prison on those charges.
But Wilson granted a defense motion asking the two counts of tampering be merged, finding that when Nuñez wrapped Jeremiah's body and later helped transport and bury the container, both acts were done to hide the body and should be counted as one charge.
That ruling reduced Nuñez's exposure to a maximum of 21 years. He'll also receive more than 800 days' credit for time served in custody while awaiting the resolution of his case.
Wilson found Nuñez's crime was a serious violent offense, meaning he'll be required to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence and won't have the ability to earn day-for-day credit for good behavior while he is incarcerated.
Nuñez's defense team had sought a lower sentence for him based on his age and lack of criminal history.
They also argued he should not do more time than Jeremiah's mother, Tracy Ann Peña.
Peña received a 12-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to one count of child abuse resulting in death and three counts of conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, a plea agreement that settled two cases against her.
Attorney Theresa Duncan showed a graphic during her closing statement Friday, depicting each person in the household — Ferguson, Peña, Nuñez, Jeremiah and his sister — with different-sized figures related to their ages at the time.
It appeared to represent a family of two adults and three children.
“It's clear from this graphic that Tracy Peña and Thomas Ferguson were the real adults in this household,” Duncan said, adding Nuñez and Jeremiah where both victims of their violent father.
“Jordan could have been Jeremiah,” she said. “Jeremiah could have been Jordan.”
Jeremiah's aunt and godmother Celine Miera criticized that argument following the sentencing hearing Friday.
“The kids in the household were Jeremiah and his sister,” she said. “Jordan was a grown man. Trying to put him as a child, that's incorrect. He was capable of doing adult things in the world. Why wouldn't he be considered an adult?”
Nuñez — who had been raised primarily by his grandparents in Texas and came to New Mexico to reunite with his father only a few months before Jeremiah's death — also spoke about the boy who had been, for a short time, like his little brother.
“I remember so many things about Jeremiah from just a little bit of time,” he said. “His NFL team was the Panthers, Logic was his favorite rapper, he loved playing video games. … There was so much more to him, so much more that I wish I got to know.”Internet Explorer Channel Network