ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Two older sisters of a New Mexico man who pleaded guilty to killing his parents and three younger siblings when he was a teenager said Tuesday they forgive their brother but still want justice for their family.
In a written statement, Vanessa Lightbourne and Annette Verreault said they support the attorney general’s appeal of a 2016 Children’s Court decision to sentence Nehemiah Griego as a juvenile and allow for his release on his 21st birthday, which is in March.
A New Mexico Court of Appeals hearing is set for Wednesday in Albuquerque in the case, with the state attorney general’s office seeking to have the 2016 decision sent back to Children’s Court for further hearings. The sisters did not say in the statement how much more time they believe their brother should spend behind bars, but treating Griego as an adult would have given him the possibility of up to 120 years in prison.
Griego was 15 in 2013 when authorities say he opened fire in his family’s home south of Albuquerque, killing his parents, Greg and Sarah Griego, and three young siblings — Zephaniah, Jael and Angelina.
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“On behalf of Greg Griegos’ surviving children, we want to emphasize that we have forgiven our brother, but we still seek justice for our father and his family,” Lightbourne and Verreault said. “Actions should have consequences. We believe that Nehemiah’s release in a few short months is a dangerous precedent to set for the continued safety and well-being for the family and the community.”
They added that Nehemiah’s expected release in March would prevent “healing and closure for the family and for our brother as well.”
Attorney General Hector Balderas is seeking to have the 2016 decision sent back to Children’s Court for more hearings. As part of the appeal, he filed a 42-page brief asking judges to consider Griego’s premeditation of the murders, mental health issues and violent tendencies.
But the Children’s Court decision allowing for his release at age 21 found that he had been receptive to psychological treatment while in state custody, and that his therapy and rehabilitation since 2014 at a state facility for adolescents had prepared him for his release.
Griego’s teachers, psychiatrists and others in the past have testified that he had made significant progress after being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and some learning disabilities.
According to authorities, Griego in January 2013 first killed his mother as she slept and then his 9-year-old brother and two sisters, ages 5 and 2.
Griego waited in a bathroom and ambushed his father, a gang member turned pastor, after he returned home, authorities said.
Nehemiah Griego’s lawyers in court said in his defense that he had been abused at home and likely suffered a traumatic brain injury. A request for comment from the public defenders representing Griego in the appeal was not immediately returned late Tuesday.
“Over the last few years there have been views expressed about Nehemiah that do not represent the family’s views. Most notably a few people who claim to speak for the entire family have maintained that Nehemiah is the victim in this crime,” Griego’s older sisters said.