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Felony charges for Taos suspects

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Taos County Sheriff’s Office on Friday charged two adults who were arrested at a makeshift compound near the Colorado border earlier this month with child abuse resulting in death.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Jany Leveille each were charged with child abuse resulting in death and conspiracy to commit child abuse, according to a news release from Taos County spokesman Steve Fuhlendorf. The charge is a first-degree felony that carries a possible life sentence.

Meanwhile, the Taos District Attorney’s Office has filed a motion to have Taos District Court Judge Sarah Backus reconsider her ruling to release all five adults arrested at the compound on an unsecured appearance bond.

The defendants are all still in the Taos County jail because they haven’t found a suitable place to live.

Investigators uncovered a child’s remains at the compound near Amalia on Aug. 6. The body was later identified as 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s son.

Taos County District Attorney Donald Gallegos has said that he wouldn’t pursue charges for the boy’s death until the state Office of the Medical Investigator determined a cause of death, which the OMI is still investigating. Gallegos could not be reached for comment.

Wahhaj and Leveille – along with Lucas Morton, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhanah Wahhaj – are also charged with 11 counts of child abuse.

Taos County deputies and state officials raided the compound Aug. 3 after getting information from Georgia police that the adults and children there were starving and out of money. Deputies found 11 children, ages 1 to 15, who appeared to be malnourished and took them into state custody.

Deputies were able to locate Abdul-Ghani’s body after one of the children said the boy died at the compound and was buried there.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was being held on a Georgia warrant for allegedly abducting his son in December, but Georgia authorities have declined to extradite him.

After a detention hearing Aug. 13, Backus ruled that the defendants be released on an unsecured bond because the state didn’t provide enough evidence that they were a danger to the community.

Backus heard evidence that the adults, who are Muslim, were telling the children that Abdul-Ghani would be resurrected as Jesus and instruct them on what institutions to destroy.

But Backus explained in her written ruling that she has never considered a defendant’s faith when determining dangerousness.

The Taos DA’s Office asked her to reconsider based on their faith, among other factors.

“The Court in this case should have considered the evidence that these Defendants’ particular views concerning their faith required them to commit violent illegal acts at some unknown time in the future, to attack law enforcement personnel with firearms if such personnel came to their compound, and that they were currently taking active steps to train for that purpose,” Deputy District Attorney Timothy Hasson wrote.

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