Suspects in New Mexico compound case expected to be released despite sheriff’s pleas

Taos County Sheriffs Office(AMALIA, N.M.) --A New Mexico judge agreed on Monday to release five suspects who were arrested on child abuse charges and were alleged to have been training the children to carry out school shootings. The decision to release the suspects on bond came against the wishes of the sheriff's department and FBI.

The suspects -- two men and three women -- were arrested last week at a makeshift compound in Amalia, New Mexico, where authorities rescued 11 emaciated children living in filthy conditions with very little food and no clean water, according to police.

Judge Sarah Backus ordered the suspects -- Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, Lucas Morton, 40, Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35 -- released on $20,000 bond each on Monday evening and ordered them to wear ankle monitors until trial, the Taos County Sheriff's Office announced.

Leveille, who is a native of Haiti, was transferred to custody of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Tuesday, the Taos County Sheriff's Office said.

Wahhaj is still being held on an outstanding warrant from Georgia stemming from the allegation he kidnapped his 4-year-old son.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the other three defendants remained in jail pending fulfillment of their conditions for release, according to the sheriff's office.

District Court Judge Sarah Backus outlined her reasons for granting release to the suspects in a 19-point written order filed on Tuesday.

"The Court is aware that it will receive criticism about this decision," Backus wrote. "The canons of judicial ethics require that judges not concern themselves with public opinion and base their decisions on the law and the evidence presented in Court. The defendants are innocent until they are proved to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"In Court, the burden was on the prosecution to prove its case and it did not do so," the written order went on to say. "For that reason, the Court has denied the motion for detention without bond."

The order does outline 12 strict conditions for their release, including weekly contact with their attorneys, adding that the suspects must also cooperate with the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Division (CYFD), where the children are being held in protective custody. They will remain under house arrest, have ankle-monitoring bracelets, may not possess drugs or weapons, and must not visit the compound.

The Taos County sheriff, undersheriff, prosecutors and an FBI agent involved in the case had argued the five adults should not be released, Albuquerque ABC affiliate KOAT reported. The judge, however, said they failed to articulate a "specific threat."

Police discovered the decrepit compound, located near the Colorado state line, while searching for Wahhaj's 4-year-old son, Abdul, but he was not there. His mother reported him missing late last year and claimed his father kidnapped him.

Investigators found the malnourished children, ages 1 to 15, barefoot and wearing "rags for clothing," according to a complaint. Authorities recovered the buried remains of a young boy during a subsequent search of the compound on Aug. 9.

Prosecutors believe the remains were that of Wahhaj's son, who is disabled, according KOAT, but investigators say it could take weeks to verify the child's identification.



Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Check Also

Santa Rosa rebuilds one year after Tubbs fire tore through California town

iStock/Thinkstock(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) -- One year after the Tubbs Fire burned through the town of Santa Rosa, California, claiming 22 lives, residents are still grappling with what they lost and looking at what went wrong, as they rebuild from the grou...