Mental health experts can’t agree on a diagnosis. Jordan could have been Jeremiah.

Jordan Nuñez is slated for a November trial on more than a dozen felony charges, including child abuse resulting in the death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia. Nuñez faces life in prison if convicted. Luis Sánchez Saturno/New Mexican file photo

“State District Judge Matthew Wilson sentenced Jordan Nuñez to 21 years in prison Friday for failing to intervene while his father beat and tortured 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia to death in the family’s Nambé home in the fall of 2017,” said Phaedra Haywood, The Santa Fe New Mexican. “Judge Wilson rejected arguments made by Nuñez’s defense attorneys that his sentence should be significantly mitigated due to his traumatic childhood and fear of his father, who officials said told his family if he ever saw the police coming to their home, he would kill them all before officers reached the door”.

“I’m truly sorry for my failure to call 911, that was one of my biggest mistakes,” he said through tears. “That’s something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life. Lord knows if I could go back and change everything, I would in a heartbeat.”, Jordan told the judge.

“Tommy was the bad guy in all of this while Jordan watched, but that’s the problem. Jordan watched and occasionally participated. He got the benefit of a plea bargain because of his lesser involvement, but even though it was lesser, it was not less. It still resulted in Jeremiah’s death.” First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told the court.

Tommy was a “bad guy” according to witnesses. He beat Jordan. He beat his ex-wife. Jeremiah’s sister said the abuse “was especially for Jeremiah….It was hard. It was not fun. He (meaning Tommy Ferguson) was always angry and was always being mean to everyone in the house. He would take his anger out on all of us. He would hit us or hit the dogs.”

Valencia’s mother Tracy Pena, 39 (pictured right) told investigators she was forced to help Thomas Ferguson (pictured left) move the boy’s remains but kept quiet about it because she was afraid of Ferguson. Pena was sentenced to 12 years for failing to prevent her son’s abuse and killing in September

Thomas Wayne Ferguson killed himself in the Santa Fe County jail in 2018 while awaiting trial. Prosecutors then turned their focus to Jordan Nuñez accusing him of being a “willing accomplice”. Jeremiah was tortured for weeks before his death. Evidence showed that Jeremiah was punched, speared, shocked,  and confined to a 26×39-inch dog crate.

Jordan is accused of “violently flipping the dog crate” that resulted in the blow that killed Jeremiah.  Jordan said he flipped the to determine if Jeremiah was conscious. In 2020, at the age of 23 years old Jordan Nuñez pleaded guilty to child abuse and two counts of tampering with evidence for his role in the crime.

Jordan’s defense team wanted a lesser sentence for him based on his age and lack of criminal history arguing that he should not do more time than Jeremiah’s mother, Tracy Ann Peña. Peña received a 12-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to one count of child abuse resulting in death and three counts of conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine.

Because Jordan Nunez was a child at the time that Jeremiah was killed, attorney Theresa Duncan showed a court presentation that depicting the size of each person in the household; Tommy Ferguson, Peña, Nuñez, Jeremiah and his sister . It appeared to represent a family of two adults and three children. “It’s clear from this graphic that Tracy Peña and Thomas Ferguson were the real adults in this household,” Duncan said, adding Nuñez and Jeremiah where both victims of their violent father.

“Jordan could have been Jeremiah. Jeremiah could have been Jordan.”, Duncan stated in court. Jeremiah’s family criticized the argument. Family members stated that “The kids in the household were Jeremiah and his sister. Jordan was a grown man. Trying to put him as a child, that’s incorrect. He was capable of doing adult things in the world. Why wouldn’t he be considered an adult?”

13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia was beaten and killed by his mother’s boyfriend, Thomas Ferguson, who killed himself in Santa Fe County jail in 2018.

Jordan’s had just moved to New Mexico from Texas to reunite with his father. His childhood is marked by severe abuse and neglect. Jordan was bounced through more than a dozen homes. Jordan Nunez said a few a things about Jeremiah, “I remember so many things about Jeremiah from just a little bit of time. His NFL team was the Panthers. Logic was his favorite rapper. He loved playing video games. … There was so much more to him, so much more that I wish I got to know.”

A child psychiatrist hired by Jordan Nunez’s attorneys, Dr. Jeffrey Rowe testified that he interviewed babysitters who reported that they often found Jordan and his sister hungry, filthy and with severe diaper rash. “The children really had a rough time that first six years of life”. The children were removed from their biological parents and by age 11 the state of Texas had bounced Jordan through 11 foster homes, shelter, and psychiatric facilities. “He was getting shifted all over the place,” Rowe said. Mental health experts agree that six or more placements causes severe mental health issues that make it difficult to form secure relationships.

Thomas Ferguson broke Jeremiah’s jaw so bad that the bone broke through his gums. Then, Thomas Ferguson confined Jeremiah to the dog crate. That is where psychiatrist disagree about Jordan’s diagnoses. Rowe believes that Jordan seeing Ferguson beat and torture Jeremiah evoked painful memories from Jordan’s own childhood suffered by the same man.

As all children do, after being adopted by his grandparents in2008, once Jordan became old enough, he searched for his parents. He first moved to New Mexico to be with his mother, and then to Nambé to find his father. “Jordan has been looking for somebody who is going to be a father figure, and a mother figure, for many years,” Rowe testified.

But life with Ferguson was worse than most of us can imagine. Prosecutors said the abuse Jeremiah suffered “included beatings, attaching a shock collar around the boy’s thigh, dropping a heavy hammer on his hands and throwing a homemade spear that injured the Jeremiah in several places”.

Jordan’s attorneys argued that he was too afraid of Ferguson to stand up for Jeremiah. But prosecutors disagree and think that Jordan “had opportunities to alert authorities to the abuse, but that he did nothing, and even helped bury the body”. Dr. David Salsberg testified for the prosecution stating that Jordan “had access to a phone, used Facebook frequently and could leave the house”.

Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups, “Hearts and Minds” in each state. The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page. Thank you.

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