The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Jouett enters guilty plea


October 21, 2018

David Grieder

CLOVIS — Seated calmly Wednesday beside his attorney in the Curry County Courthouse, it took Nathaniel Jouett more time to listen to a judge go through all 30 of his felony charges than it did for him to accrue them, almost 14 months earlier, in the deadly shooting he perpetrated at the library across the road as a 16-year-old.

Judge James Hudson asked Jouett if he understood what it meant for him to enter the plea agreement: it bypasses a trial, previously scheduled to last a month next year in Roswell, but amounts to the same as if a jury had found him guilty on every count.

Hudson also asked Jouett if he understood that he could face a sentence ranging from probation up to two life terms in prison plus 96 years. Each of the first-degree murder convictions alone — for the deaths of circulation assistant Wanda Walters and children's librarian Krissie Carter — can carry a life term, and the remaining years would pertain to the four other people he injured by gunshot and dozens more that were threatened during the assault on Aug. 28, 2017.

"Yes, sir," replied the teenager, who did not otherwise speak but to answer Hudson's questions in the hearing, packed with dozens of victims and about as half as many people from among his family and church congregation.

"I think things went pretty smoothly. We're relieved that we got through this step of the case," said Jouett's defense attorney Stephen Taylor. "I think it's somewhat of a relief to Nathaniel and I believe that it's a relief to the community and the people of Clovis. No one wanted a trial in this case."

District Attorney Andrea Reeb was of a similar mind as to last week's hearing.

"I would say the biggest task is behind us," she told The News. "He pleaded guilty and that hearing went as I expected it would go. No surprises there."

It may be the biggest task, but it's not the last, and there could well be surprises given the range of sentencing he faces and a constitutional challenge Taylor will bring to Hudson before then.

Next up is a motion hearing Nov. 17 in Clovis, when Taylor intends to argue that Jouett should be eligible for an amenability hearing to determine if he can be treated and released as a young adult.

"The issue for me is pretty simple," Taylor told The News. "It's a question of equal protection and why the state of New Mexico guarantees an amenability hearing for a 14-year old child who has been convicted of first-degree murder but does not provide equal opportunity for 15, 16 and 17 year-old children who have been convicted of that same crime."

To support his argument, Taylor will bring in from Chicago an expert on adolescent brain development to speak generally as to "how children in terms of brain development cannot really be compared to adults, especially (as to) culpability for their actions."

Reeb said she would decide by month's end if she intends to bring in her own expert or simply interview Taylor's. She said previously it would amount to changing the law of the state for Hudson to rule in Taylor's favor on the motion.

"I'm glad to hear the judge is going to take a month to consider (the motion)," she said. "I'm sure he will follow the law."

If an amenability hearing does come to be, prosecutors have only to prove that Jouett is in fact "not amenable to treatment" in the state's Children, Youth and Families Department, more precisely "that he couldn't be treated by the age of 21," Taylor said.

If that much is determined, or if the motion is denied completely, it goes to sentencing. Those dates are yet to be scheduled, but the attorneys are looking toward a block of one week to eight days in Clovis as early as February. Victims will have time then to give impact statements, and Reeb said it could also consist of testimony from medical experts, teachers, friends and family of Jouett.


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