SANTA FE – The state Attorney General’s Office is getting involved in fighting a judge’s controversial ruling that allows defendants arrested at a remote Taos County compound – and accused of training children to carry out armed attacks – to get out of jail pending trial.
The Muslim defendants remained behind bars Monday, as finding them a place to stay in Taos area is proving to be difficult.
In response to questions from the Journal, AG’s Office spokesman David Carl said in an email that the office “is collaborating” with the Taos District Attorney’s Office “related to options to challenge” state District Judge Susan Backus’ order rejecting a prosecutors’ motion to hold the compound defendants until trial.
Claire C. Welch of the AG’s Criminal Appeals Division has filed a request for an audio recording of the Aug. 6 pretrial detention hearing for all five defendants.
The five adults – Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, Lucas Morton, 40, Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, Subhanah Wahhaj, 35 and Jany Leveille, 35 – were charged with 11 counts of child abuse after Taos County deputies and other officers raided the makeshift compound near Amalia on Aug. 3 and found 11 children, ages 1 to 15, who appeared to be malnourished.
The remains of 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj – who was allegedly abducted by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, in Georgia in December – were found at the compound three days later. The cause of death has not been determined.
In her Aug. 13 ruling after a four-hour hearing, Backus authorized the defendants’ release and said prosecutors hadn’t met the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” to prove they would be dangerous if released from jail. The ruling set off a firestorm on social media, and threats against the judge caused the Taos courthouse to close for an afternoon.
Prosecution witnesses testified that children taken into custody from the compound said they were being trained to use the adults’ guns to shoot up “corrupt” educational, government and law enforcement institutions that would be identified by the dead boy when he was resurrected as Jesus.
Despite Backus’ ruling, two of the defendants can’t be released for now – Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is being held on a Georgia warrant, and Leveille, who is originally from Haiti, has been taken into custody by federal immigration authorities.
The three remaining defendants are still in jail because they haven’t found new places to live, part of their conditions of release. Marie Legrand Miller, Hujrah Wahhaj’s attorney, said Monday that ongoing hostility toward the Muslim defendants and to Judge Backus are factors. “It has been (an ongoing issue) since everything blew up after court last week,” Legrand Miller said.
But Megan Mitsunaga, Subhanah Wahhaj’s attorney, said he believes that her client will be safe in Taos County. “My impression of a lot of the vitriol she has been exposed to hasn’t been from people in Taos,” Mitsunaga said. “It seems to be mostly from out of state, from what I’ve seen.”
Michael Weinman, a member of Taos’ small Muslim community, said Friday that arrangements had been made for a motel room for defendant Lucas Morton, but the motel backed out. He said he’s concerned that’s “going to be the story everywhere in Taos.”
He said word had been sent to Taos-area churches to ask if they could help find accommodations.”I think helping prisoners is an obligation of all religions,” he said.