Teen found guilty of kidnapping, murdering Sanaa Amenhotep

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 2:55 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 3:08 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -After less than an hour of deliberations Tuesday, a jury found Lexington County teenager Nazareth “Nicolle” Sanchez-Peralta guilty of kidnapping and murdering Sanaa Amenhotep in 2021.

Amenhotep vanished in April of 2021. Her disappearance led to a weekslong search that ended when Sanchez-Peralta led investigators to her body on a deserted road in Leesville.

Prosecutors say that Sanchez-Peralta, along with two co-defendants who have also pleaded guilty in the case, Treveon Nelson and Jaylen Wilson, lured Amehotep into a stolen Toyota Camry, drove her to Leesville and brutally killed her.

Amenhotep’s parents, Sharif Amenhotep and Saleemah Graham-Fleming, said in an interview that the verdict provides some relief to their family.

“We still have a climb to make in this thing called justice as it relates to Sanaa so there’s still a little bit of anxiety there,” Graham-Fleming said.

They also said that they are grateful to prosecutor Suzanne Mayes and 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard for leaving no stone unturned in the case, and expressed thanks to all those who have supported the family during the past two years.

Sharif said he was not surprised by the jury’s decision.

“The evidence was clear,” he said. “I mean it’s overwhelming what they’ve done, even though as well thought-out their plan, but we believe that God is the best of planners and that it unraveled and unfolded.”

The trial lasted six days and included hundreds of pieces of evidence and testimony from 20 witnesses, including Amenhotep’s younger sister.

In a fiery closing argument, Hubbard argued Sanchez-Peralta was “the ultimate manipulator,” tricking a girl she referred to as her best friend into a stolen car while knowing what was about to happen to her.

The vehicle used to kidnap Amenhotep was a car that Sanchez-Peralta had stolen.

That car became a “hearse for Sanaa Amenhotep,” and drove her to her death, Hubbard told jurors.

The state laid out a series of inconsistencies that Sanchez-Peralta told law enforcement, including the fact that she initially said she was never at the murder scene before later admitting to being there.

Hubbard said the “greatest lie” Sanchez-Peralta told was the one to her friend, Amenhotep.

Sharif said Amenhotep was a loving, caring person with a big heart.

“She loved people, she loved her siblings, she loved her parents and she loved even those who were called friends,” he said. “To learn that everybody you call your friend is not your friend so no fault of hers for having such a big heart in a world that’s not ready for that type of love, to embrace that kind of love.”

Hubbard also pushed back against one of the defense’s main theories: that Nicolle was victimized by her boyfriend, Nelson, and coerced into participating.

If she had been a victim, there would have been two bodies “found in that shallow grave,” Hubbard said in his closing argument.

In her closing argument, defense attorney Sarah Mauldin asked jurors to consider Sanchez-Peralta’s young age before coming to a verdict.

Mauldin said the “worst decision” she ever made was getting close to Nelson.

The defense suggested that investigators skipped steps, missed opportunities to question other possible suspects, and alleged that prosecutors exaggerated evidence.

Graham-Fleming said the push for justice, to the fullest extent of the law, is bigger than her daughter.

“In the world, we live in today, evil lurks,” she said. “It’s so sad to witness the level of evil that’s in our young people. No regard for life. And so when I say that I don’t want this to happen to another family, that’s exactly what I’m speaking of.”

She said the evil that befell her family could easily befall anybody else’s.

“That’s why it’s so important for justice to be served in this particular case is because the act itself was so gruesome, right? And we don’t want to send a message that this is okay to do. Because we don’t want copycats. We don’t other people to go along and think that this is alright to do because I’ll only get 20 years or 30 years, but that this is something that is not only intolerable here, but it’s evil and it’s inhumane.”

Amenhotep’s parents said she was their “miracle child.”

“Today I couldn’t be more proud to be her mother,” Graham-Fleming said. “I couldn’t be more proud. Even in her death, she has made me a very proud mother. I only wish she could have been here to witness how proud I am of her. Sanaa Mahari, my beautiful work of art.”

All three defendants face up to life in prison.

Judge Debra McCaslin deferred sentencing until June 30 because of their ages.

Amenhotep will be receiving an honorary diploma from Richland Northeast High School at the school’s graduation on June 1.

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