ALBUQUERQUE, NM – A man convicted of fatally shooting his parents and three siblings in New Mexico as a 15-year-old was sentenced Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole in a case that has tested the limits of mental treatment for juvenile offenders.
Judge Alisa Hart sentenced 22-year-old Nehemiah Griego after his attorney sought a sentence that would have let him continue treatment while on probation.
Hart, however, previously determined that Griego was not amenable to treatment as a juvenile.
She reiterated Friday that probation was not an option because it would have placed the community at an "unacceptable level" of potential risk of violence if Griego were to leave treatment.
She said his case had exposed the limits of the legal system for youthful offenders who have shown some progress in treatment by the state yet not enough to be safely released back into society by age 21.
"What is needed to balance both what is best for the community and what is best for (Griego) does not currently exist as a resource for the court to consider today," she wrote.
Defense attorney Stephen Taylor called the decision "unfortunate." He had argued over the years that Griego had endured abuse and malnourishment so severe as a child that he suffered brain damage.
"It didn't have to result this way," he said. "If we could only do better as a state in providing care for our children, we wouldn't' be in this place today."
The chilling details of the shootings emerged after Bernalillo County deputies arrested the then 15-year-old Griego, who was accused of committing the 2013 killings in the family's Albuquerque home with rifles stored in his parents' closet.
Deputies said Griego first shot his mother in her room as she slept. He then shot his 9-year-old brother Zephaniah, 5-year-old sister Jael, and 2-year-old sister Angelina.
Griego's father, a reformed gang member and pastor, had not been home for most of the night because he was working a shift at a homeless shelter. He was the last to die after he was ambushed by his son as he returned home.
A security officer at the Griego family's church, one of Albuquerque's largest, said the teen had spent much of the next day at the church before his arrest.
Griego pleaded guilty in 2015 to second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death.
Griego must serve at least 30 years on charges of child abuse resulting in death before becoming eligible for parole.
The judge's order also includes a seven-year sentence for second-degree murder charges stemming from the killings of his parents, while giving him credit for time served for a nearly equivalent stretch of time.
"Now that this defendant will no longer threaten the safety of our community, we should turn our attention to helping those directly affected by his tragedy," Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office, said in an email.
He said prosecutors were pleased with the sentence, even though they had argued for Griego to serve three consecutive life sentences plus another 30 years, ensuring he would never be released.