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

Ne­hemiah Griego

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