Defense attorney weighs in on case of slain family

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Associated Press

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 24 at 7:31 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The public defender who is representing a New Mexico teen accused of gunning down his parents and younger siblings said Thursday that it's too early for anyone to rush to judgment about the teen's mental state, motives or plans.

Nehemiah Griego, 15, is facing murder and child abuse charges in the deaths of his family. They were all found shot to death inside their rural home south of Albuquerque last Saturday.

Public defender Jeff Buckels said the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department has been parceling out limited bits of what he described as "the most damaging supposed 'facts.'"

"This has led directly to a multitude of sensational headlines that threaten to finish Nehemiah's case in the public mind before it has fairly begun," Buckels said.

Family members also have criticized the sheriff's department and the media for their portrayal of Griego in the days following the murders.

On Thursday, Sheriff Dan Houston again described the case as "horrific" and said he stood by the facts as presented in the investigation.

Detectives continued Thursday to pour over evidence gathered at the Griego home last weekend. They were also reviewing text messages and calls between Griego and his 12-year-old girlfriend and security video from Calvary Albuquerque, the Christian church where Griego's father once served as a pastor and where the boy apparently spent much of the day following the slayings.

Authorities have said Griego allegedly reloaded his parents' two rifles and put them in the family van after the early morning slayings and had planned to randomly gun down Wal-Mart shoppers. Houston said investigators have no information that Griego actually went to a Wal-Mart that day.

Buckels also noted that Griego appeared to have had "every chance to carry out such a plan, but did not."

Former police officer and Calvary Albuquerque security chief Vince Harrison told The Associated Press that Griego spent much of last Saturday at the church, wandering the campus as dozens of Sunday school teachers were being trained on how to deal with a shooter.

He was greeted by the manager of the church's skate park and others. But it wasn't until hours later that church officials knew something was wrong.

It was Harrison who called the sheriff's department, and he and the boy drove to the Griego home, where they met authorities.

After finding the bodies inside the house, sheriff's officials took the teen to headquarters. During questioning, he confessed to shooting his mother and three younger siblings in their beds shortly after 1 a.m. with a .22-caliber rifle, then waiting in a bathroom with another military-style semi-automatic rifle to ambush his father upon his return from an overnight shift at a homeless shelter.

Harrison said he doesn't know why Griego decided to come to the church, but that it was like a second home for the homeschooled teen.

"It was a familiar place to him," he said. "I think if he did have in his mindset to do something foolish and start shooting people there also, I think his demeanor was tamed a little bit because he saw people there he knew."

Authorities have said there was no indication Griego intended to harm anyone at the church. The sheriff also said Griego and his girlfriend had spent much of the day together.

A memorial service is planned Friday at the church for victims Greg Griego, 51, his wife, Sarah Griego, 40, and three of their children — a 9-year-old boy, Zephania Griego, and daughters Jael Griego, 5, and Angelina Griego, 2.

On Wednesday night, the church also held an hourlong prayer vigil that drew an estimated 2,000 people.

Pastor Skip Heitzig shared stories about Greg Griego, who also served as a voluntary chaplain at the county jail and provided spiritual guidance for local firefighters. He said Greg was dedicated to helping others find God. Heitzig also urged the crowd to remember that forgiveness and restoration — tenets dear to Greg — will be important as the community moves forward.

Relatives, in a statement Tuesday night, said they were heartbroken, and remembered the teen as a bright and talented musician who played guitar, drums and bass with the church choir. He also was a wrestler who dreamed of following his family's long tradition of military service, and a boy who accompanied his pastor father on rescue missions to Mexico, they said.

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Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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