Judge denies motion to keep NM compound suspects jailed until trial
David Lynch, Chris Ramirez and Ryan Laughlin
August 14, 2018 09:24 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – State prosecutors' motion to detain five adults arrested after a raid in northern New Mexico earlier this month was denied by a judge on Monday.
Judge Sarah Backus made the determination, saying the state failed to meet the burden of showing the suspects were a danger to the community following several hours of testimony and evidence being presented by prosecutors. Siraj Wahhaj, Hujrah Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Jany Leveille and Subhannah Wahhaj each face 11 counts of child abuse after 11 children were found living in deplorable conditions at the site.
Each suspect will have a $20,000 signature bond – meaning they'll have to pay that amount if they don't show for their trial – and will have to wear ankle monitors. In addition, they will not be allowed to leave the country, and any visits with children will be supervised.
State prosecutors outlined evidence suggesting that at least some of the suspects could have been planning some sort of attack. They said Siraj Wahhaj – who also faces child abduction charges from Georgia after allegedly taking his 3-year-old son – took several weapons classes before coming to New Mexico, and books found on the compound focused on how to build firearms at home.
Various weapons and ammo were found during the raid on August 3, and several more firearms were discovered in subsequent searches. The children were allegedly taught how to load and fire assault rifles.
The 11 kids found at the compound ranged in age from 1 to 15, authorities said. Since the raid they have been placed in the protective custody of state welfare workers with the Children, Youth and Families Department.
In addition, prosecutors described a letter sent to Siraj Wahhaj from his brother allegedly inviting him to come to New Mexico and die as a martyr.
The FBI also weighed in on the case for the very first time. FBI agent Travis Taylor testified saying that, according to interviews conducted between the FBI and two teens from the compound, Siraj Wahhaj would lead rituals that included reading from the Quran and centered on his son, who authorities said suffered from seizures.
"During these rituals, per witness statements, the victim, Abdul (Ghani Wahhaj) would begin to choke and have white foam or slime come from his mouth and then pass out," Taylor said.
According to Taylor, the children were led to believe that the child, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, "would become Jesus" when his demons were exorcised. He added that once the child "became Jesus," he would instruct the others of the property or the family what corrupt institutions to get rid of."
A body believed to be a child was found on the property in the days following the raid, but the Office of the Medical Investigator has yet to definitely identify it. Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was not among the 11 children immediately found at the compound.
In the end, vague indications of potential future violence wasn't enough to convince Backus.
"In this particular case, again, based on what was presented to the judge, I think she had no choice but to rule in the way that she did," one of the defense attorneys said.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in his testimony that while the initial serving of the search warrant, the tactical team found children holding boxes of ammo. Hogrefe added at least one child told the team he was armed when he was found.
While cross-examining of Hogrefe, the suspects' defense attorneys each took their chance to try and distance the suspects as far from the weapons as possible, and the connotations of violence they imply. One defense attorney suggested it's "prudent" that children learn how to use firearms safely, which Hogrefe agreed to.
The sheriff also confirmed that Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is investigating the legalities surrounding the occupants' possession of firearms.
Another defense attorney pointed out, and Hogrefe confirmed, that the compound's occupants did not shoot at the tactical team as they raided the compound. He did say, however, that Morton was "struggling" and "resisting" while being arrested by deputies.
The defense spent their time at the podium hammering home that there is a double standard at play, alleging that if the suspects were white, Christian and had guns, "we might not be here today."
In a statement sent to KOB following the hearing, Gov. Susana Martinez said she "strongly disagreed" with the hearing's outcome and Backus's decision.
"Unfortunately, it highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals," she said.
David Lynch, Chris Ramirez and Ryan Laughlin
Updated: August 14, 2018 09:24 AM
Created: August 13, 2018 04:57 PM
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