Jordan Nuñez’s grandfather, guilty of child abuse and manipulation of evidence supporting his role in the death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia, painted a portrait of his grandson as a happy, playful child who nonetheless showed visible signs of abuse by his father .
Nuñez’s father, Thomas Ferguson, was accused of beating and torturing Valencia to death in 2017. Prosecutors on the case say Nuñez was a willing accomplice when it came to Jeremiah’s death and subsequent funeral.
Ferguson committed suicide in prison in 2018 before going on trial.
Nuñez’s sentencing hearing, which began Tuesday and can last until Friday, centers on his attorney’s argument that he shouldn’t be sentenced to more sentences than Tracy Ann Peña – Jeremiah’s mother – received. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2020.
Nuñez faces up to 24 years in prison for his involvement in the crime.
Defense attorney Mark A. Earnest highlighted Peña’s role in Jeremiah’s death Wednesday before District Court Judge Matthew J. Wilson, citing a series of interviews law enforcement officers had with the boy’s mother, as well as recorded phone calls, text messages and other documents. All seemed to be intent on emphasizing their greater role in the neglect, abuse, and death of Jeremiah.
Comments from Peña, who lived with Ferguson for several years, portrayed Ferguson as a psychotic, meth-addicted “devil” who she believed could not be killed and who feared for their lives everyone in the household, including Nuñez.
“We were afraid we would die every day,” Peña said in an interview with police officers investigating the case.
Much of Wednesday’s negotiations reiterated the appalling details of the boy’s abuse: Ferguson uses a hammer to smash the boy’s hands; his shaking of Jeremiah with an electric dog collar; throw a small handmade spear at the boy when he feels defiant.
Jeremiah was badly beaten the night before his death before he was placed in a dog crate, according to court documents. Prosecutors said Nuñez tipped the cage while the boy was still in it, which resulted in the boy’s death.
Earnest used the material to prove that Nuñez was no more guilty of the boy’s abuse and death than Peña, who pleaded guilty to child molestation and three drug trafficking charges in a 2018 plea deal.
Defense attorneys called a number of witnesses Nuñez knew as a child and teenager in Texas to write a backstory about a boy who was so badly abused by his father that he was scared to crawl under a table “like a puppy”, if he didn’t do some housework as Grandfather Araon Nuñez described it.
“You could see how badly he was treated,” said the elder Nuñez, adding that when Jordan Nuñez drove his grandson around and they ran into cops, he would yell, “Down, down – there are cops!”
Others in Jordan Nuñez’s past – a former teacher assistant, former employer, and lifelong friend who said he would continue to stand by Nuñez – also spoke of a calm, respectful boy who would never intentionally harm another person.
They described Nuñez as a “follower”, not a leader.
Earnest repeatedly drew quotes from Peña’s interviews to portray Nuñez as “a good boy” unable to fight Ferguson’s violent outbursts.
Earnest also said there was no evidence, as prosecutors claim, that Nuñez attempted to hide one of the guns Ferguson used to harm Valencia.
Nuñez, dressed in prison clothes, handcuffed and wearing a protective mask, mainly stared at Earnest and the witnesses during the all-day hearing.
More witnesses are expected to appear on Thursday.