Conditions of release not yet met for compound suspects
TAOS, N.M. (AP) — Three people accused of child abuse at a ramshackle desert compound remained jailed Wednesday as New Mexico authorities sought to satisfy the conditions of their release set by a judge.
Among other things, authorities must find safe living arrangements for the defendants before they can leave jail. They also must wear ankle monitors and have regular contact with their attorneys.
“The conditions for their release have not yet been met,” Taos County spokesman Steve Fuhlendorf said Wednesday evening. He did not elaborate.
The legal proceedings against the suspects will be staged in Taos, a community rattled by threats against the judge who cleared the way for the suspects to be released.
Lawyer Marie Legrand Miller, who represents defendant Hujrah Wahhaj, said the release of her client is being delayed over concerns about safety.
She said the threats against the judge, heightened security at the courthouse and other factors are “giving people some pause in the community about what they are able and willing to do” to help her client.
“It has to be a safe release or she is safer in the jail,” the lawyer said.
There are few Muslims in the city. The local mosque is a white, domed building the size of a two-car garage. Outside, a staircase winds around a cottonwood tree that serves as a makeshift minaret — though there are seldom calls to prayer.
The defendants, all members of an extended family, face charges of child abuse after authorities raided their remote compound near the Colorado border in early August. Eleven children were found living in what authorities described as filthy and dangerous conditions.
Authorities returned to the compound just days later to recover the remains of a small boy whose body had been wrapped in cloth and plastic and stashed in a tunnel dug on the property.
Taos County officials said security remained tight Wednesday at the courthouse because of the threats that followed the ruling by District Judge Sarah Backus.
Backus’ decision came despite assertions by prosecutors that the group was training children to use firearms for an anti-government mission and should remain in jail pending trial.
In her written ruling, Backus said she was bound by an “extremely high standard of proof” and that prosecutors failed to present clear and convincing evidence regarding dangers the defendants might pose to the community.
“From this meager evidence the court is requested by the state to surmise that these people are dangerous terrorists with a plot against the country or institutions. The court may not surmise, guess or assume,” she wrote.
Citing state reforms, Backus had set bail for the defendants at $20,000 with no upfront deposit — just a threat of a fine if defendants break condition of their release.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys referenced the group’s Muslim faith during the hearing, but Backus wrote in her order that the court does not take into consideration faith when determining dangerousness.
Medical examiners have yet to determine conclusively whether the body found at the site outside Amalia was that of Abdul-ghani — the severely disabled, missing son of compound resident Siraj Ibn Wahhaj. Other relatives have said or told authorities that the remains are those of Abdul-ghani.
Wahhaj will remain in jail pending a warrant for his arrest issued in Georgia involving accusations that he abducted his son from the boy’s mother in December and fled to New Mexico.
Another defendant, Jany Leveille, was transferred to the custody of federal immigration authorities. The 35-year-old native of Haiti is the mother of six children taken into state custody during the compound raid.
Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Leveille has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years after overstaying her non-immigrant visitor visa.
Defendants Lucas Morton, Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj were awaiting release.
Von Chelet Leveille said his sister and the rest of the group at the compound were misunderstood.
He disputed allegations that the children were being taught to commit school shootings. He said the two older children asked to be taught to shoot, and that the family’s use of firearms was legal and innocent.
He also said the group went to the desert because they no longer wanted to live as American Muslims in a society mostly populated by non-Muslims.