Maximum sentence sought in 13-year-old's 'torture' killing

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Oct. 13—SANTA FE — Jordan Nunez delivered the final blow that killed his 13-year-old brother by repeatedly flipping a dog crate in which the boy was confined, a prosecutor said Tuesday during the first day of Nunez's sentencing hearing.

Nunez, 23, had been an active participant throughout weeks of torture that left Jeremiah Valencia hobbling on a cane with broken ribs and numerous other injuries, 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in her opening statements.

Prosecutors contend Nunez should receive the maximum sentence of 24 years in prison in connection with the 2017 beating death of Jeremiah Valencia at the family's home in Nambé.

Nunez "knew that his little brother, who had just gotten a severe beat down, was in this cage," Carmack-Altwies said, referring to the 26- by 39-inch dog crate in which the severely injured boy was confined.

A witness in a previous hearing testified that Nunez "flipped it over and over and over again," Carmack-Altwies said.

Nunez faces 14 to 24 years in prison after pleading guilty in March 2020 to one count of recklessly permitting child abuse resulting in death and two counts of tampering with evidence.

Prosecutors are asking District Judge Matthew Wilson to rule the crime a serious violent offense, which would require Nunez to serve at least 85% of his sentence before he would become eligible for parole.

An attorney for Nunez responded that the real "monster" in this case was Nunez's father, Thomas Ferguson, who devised Jeremiah's punishments and terrorized Nunez and other family members.

Ferguson killed himself in the Santa Fe County jail in April 2018 while awaiting trial in connection with Jeremiah's killing.

After Ferguson's death, prosecutors "immediately focused on Jordan (Nunez)," attorney Mark Earnest said in his opening statement. "They are trying to group Jordan with Ferguson. They are trying to make him monster 2.0."

Prosecutors responded that Nunez in fact was "monster 2.0" who participated with Ferguson in Jeremiah's torture and abuse and, after the boy's death, helped wrap the body in plastic and bury it.

"Jeremiah became the target of those two men," Carmack-Altwies said. "Basically, anything that could be used to hurt a 13-year-old boy was used on Jeremiah."

That abuse included putting a shock collar around Jeremiah's neck and shocking him, dropping a sledgehammer on the boy's hands and using the boy for target practice with a homemade spear, she said.

About two weeks before Jeremiah's death on Nov. 25, 2017, Ferguson body-slammed the boy, fracturing three of his ribs, Carmack-Alwies said. After that attack, Jeremiah needed a cane to walk.

"A perfectly healthy 13-year-old boy could barely walk, couldn't eat and needed a cane," she said. "Jordan Nunez was watching his little brother hobbling around on a cane, bleeding on it, and did nothing."

Prosecutors presented evidence that Jeremiah's blood was found throughout the house. A large amount of blood was found inside a fireplace where the boy was confined behind a specially made door.

Ferguson gave Jeremiah a "final beat down" on Nov. 25, 2017, just hours before the boy's death, Carmack-Altwies said.

The Office of Medical Investigator found that the boy's jaw was broken in two places, likely as a result of that beating, she said.

Nunez also pleaded guilty to two counts of tampering with evidence for allegedly helping to wrap the boy's body with plastic and tape, putting it in a plastic container, then burying it in a shallow grave, court records show.

Jeremiah's mother and Ferguson's girlfriend, Tracy Pena, 39, pleaded guilty to child abuse in 2018 in connection with her son's killing and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, according to her sentencing order.

Also Tuesday, Roberto Montoya, a building contractor who hired Nunez and Ferguson and befriended the family in 2018, said Ferguson had become convinced that Jeremiah was "possessed" and sought help from a pastor for the boy.