JUDGES dismissed child neglect charges against five people arrested at a New Mexico desert compound where 11 children were found living in filth and the body of a three-year-old boy was discovered.
The judges ruled that they could not keep the five in custody because prosecutors missed a 10-day deadline for a court hearing to establish probable cause for the neglect charges.
But authorities later pushed ahead with new charges of child abuse resulting in death against the dead boy’s father and mother, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his partner Jany Leveille.
The couple remained silent as not guilty pleas were entered on their behalf.
The charges could carry life sentences in the death of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, a severely disabled boy whose badly decomposed remains were found this month within a tunnel at the high-desert compound near the Colorado state line.
The group was arrested this month at a remote desert compound where 11 children were found living in filth and the young boy’s body was found.
Authorities say Wahhaj and Leveille denied the boy proper medicine and health care as he died in December 2017 during a religious ritual aimed at casting out demonic spirits.
Prosecutors had pressed to keep the group behind bars and planned to present new evidence of an anti-government plot and talk of jihad and martyrdom among some members of the extended Muslim family.
Defence lawyers say their clients have no record of criminal convictions and pose no risk to the public.
Federal immigration authorities say Leveille, a native of Haiti, has been in the United States unlawfully for 20 years after overstaying a visitor visa.
Wahhaj and Leveille could be held for up to five days pending a hearing on whether they can be held without bond pending trial.
In the case of the other three defendants, a judge ruled they could be released as early as today depending on what action prosecutors take.
Prosecutor John Lovelace said no decisions have been made on how the district attorney’s office will proceed.
Prosecutors have other options for pursuing charges against the three, including seeking indictments from a grand jury.
Prosecutors said in court filings they have discovered a handwritten document called “Phases of a Terrorist Attack” that was seized from the compound and includes vague instructions for “the one-time terrorist” and mentioned an unnamed place called “the ideal attack site.”
Prosecutors wrote in court filings that new interviews with some of the children removed from the compound revealed that one of the adults, Lucas Morton, stated he wished to die in jihad as a martyr and that Leveille and Subhannah Wahhaj joked about dying in jihad.
The new charges of child abuse resulting in death against Wahhaj and Leveille are tied to an extensive account of Abdul-ghani’s death in a journal that prosecutors attribute to Leveille.
The boy’s mother initially reported the boy missing last year from Jonesboro, Georgia, after Wahhaj said he was taking the child to a park and didn’t return.
Forensic medical investigators have not yet identified the cause and manner of the boy’s death.