Judge in Nehemiah Griego case recuses himself
Hearing is to determine if youth is sentenced as adult
A children’s court judge presiding over an amenability hearing for a 21-year-old man who killed five family members six years ago recused himself Friday morning after a week of hearing witness testimony.
The next judge assigned the case will decide how to proceed.
The reason District Court Judge John Romero stepped away a week into the hearing to determine if Nehemiah Griego was amenable to treatment wasn’t entirely clear. Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said Romero had a conversation with a defense expert witness on Thursday evening after the hearing concluded. Attorneys from both sides weren’t present during the conversation, and it wasn’t part of the official court record, he said.
The judge “had asked both parties if he should recuse himself based on this, and we agreed that at this point he should,” Patrick said. “We don’t know what transpired in the conversation.”
Prosecutors didn’t accuse the judge of acting improperly, he said.
Stephen Taylor, Griego’s defense attorney, said he had stepped out of the courtroom to tell other witnesses the day’s hearing had ended and didn’t see or hear the conversation.
“Whatever happened is still unclear to me,” he said. “I’ve never seen this happen before with an amenability hearing.”
Taylor said Antoinette Kavanaugh, a forensic psychologist, had just wrapped up her testimony as a defense expert when the ex parte communication took place. Kavanaugh declined to comment on Friday.
Taylor said the defense was going to finish up its presentation Friday and the hearing would have continued in January, when another state witness was available to give testimony.
It was the second amenability proceeding Griego has been through. After the first in 2016, Romero ruled Griego was amenable to treatment and sentenced him as a juvenile, which would have allowed for Griego to be released on his 21st birthday.
Prosecutors appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals sent the case back to Romero, ruling that the judge must consider the grisly nature of the crime and other factors.
Griego was 15 years old when he shot and killed his parents and three younger siblings inside their South Valley home in January 2013.
He pleaded guilty to the murders, but the terms of plea agreement allowed him to be sentenced as either a juvenile or an adult, depending on whether it was proven if he was amenable to treatment.
Several of Griego’s family members have attended hearings. At least one of his older sisters testified as a witness for prosecutors, and his aunt, Regina Griego, offered to give her nephew a place to stay if he is released.
She said another amenability hearing will take a further toll on the family.
“It’s so hard to think about. Every step of the way. I keep thinking it’s going to end, and it doesn’t,” Regina Griego said. “I’m really committed to supporting him, because he’s my brother’s son.”
Judge John Romero