August 30, 2018 / 11:40 PM / 3 months ago

New Mexico prosecutor vows charges after compound members released

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - A New Mexico district attorney vowed on Thursday to reinstate child abuse charges against three defendants from a remote compound after a procedural fumble by his team led to their release, sparking a public outcry.

Defendant Hujrah Wahhaj reacts as she stands with her defense lawyer Marie Legrand Miller during a hearing in Taos County District Court in Taos County, New Mexico, U.S., August 28, 2018. Eddie Moore/Pool via REUTERS

After a storm of criticism and insults on social media against his two prosecutors, District Attorney Donald Gallegos appealed for the public to stop “cussing and threatening.”

“Our options are to re-file the charges or take the case to the grand jury,” Gallegos said in a statement. “What is important to know is that we will continue to pursue prosecution of the cases.”

Prosecutors John Lovelace and Timothy Hasson have accused the Muslim defendants, who are all related by blood or marriage, of planning attacks on schools and other “corrupt institutions.”

None of the five defendants has been formally charged with those allegations. The prosecutors, as well as two judges who dismissed charges on Wednesday, have been pilloried on social media for allowing “Muslim extremists” to walk free.

Judge Emilio Chavez ordered charges dropped against Lucas Morton, his wife, Subhannah Wahhaj, and her sister Hujrah Wahhaj because prosecutors failed to schedule a preliminary hearing within a legally mandated 10-day period after they were taken into custody.

RECOVERING BELONGINGS

The three faced 11 counts of child abuse and neglect after police raided their ramshackle settlement north of Taos on Aug. 3 and said they found 11 children with no food or clean water. Three days later, they found the body of a 3-year-old at the site.

Those three spent their first full day out of jail on Thursday trying to recover a white truck, wallets, keys, clothes and other possessions left at the settlement, according to a person familiar with the situation who asked not to be named.

Judge Jeff McElroy also dismissed child abuse charges against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the father of the boy whose body was found, and his partner, Jany Laveille, over the “10-day rule” failure.

Ibn Wahhaj and Laveille, who were members of the compound, remain in custody facing separate charges for taking the brain-damaged toddler from his biological mother in Georgia and allegedly causing his death on Dec. 24 by denying him anti-seizure medicine. The two remained silent when asked to enter a plea on Wednesday. The court entered pleas of not guilty.

Defense attorneys for the couple have declined to comment specifically on the toddler’s death but say their clients are being discriminated against because they were black Muslims carrying out a faith-healing ritual.

Attorneys for the three defendants who were released said they expected new indictments could come through a grand jury in September.

Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney

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