TAOS, N.M. — A judge’s decision to allow the release of an extended family accused of child abuse at a ramshackle desert compound in New Mexico prompted a political uproar Tuesday among prominent Republican lawmakers outraged by the ruling.
The controversy was stoked even further when court officials condemned threats of violence made against the judge who issued the ruling and evacuated several administrative court offices as a precaution.
State District Court Judge Sarah Backus on Monday cleared the way for the release of four defendants, despite assertions by prosecutors that the group was training children to use firearms for an anti-government mission and should remain in jail pending trial.
The father of a severely disabled boy who was kidnapped in Georgia will not be released because an arrest warrant has been issued for him in that state.
Eleven children were taken into custody at the squalid compound near the Colorado border during an Aug. 3 raid by authorities who returned three days later and recovered the body of a small boy.
Backus, an elected Democrat, said her decision to grant release to house arrest, with conditions such as wearing ankle monitors, was tied to recent reforms of the state’s pretrial detention system that set a high bar for incriminating evidence needed to hold suspects without bail.
Backus said Monday the state failed to provide evidence backing up key allegations in the case.
“The state alleges that there was a big plan afoot, but the state hasn’t shown to my satisfaction and by clear and convincing evidence what that plan was,” Backus told the courtroom, noting that none of the defendants has a criminal record.
Initiated by a statewide vote in 2016, New Mexico’s bail reforms are modeled after similar changes made in New Jersey and under consideration in California that reduce the role of money as a means of ensuring court appearances or making release impossible for potentially dangerous suspects.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and a former district attorney, said Tuesday she “strongly disagreed” with the judge’s decision and renewed her criticism of rules for pretrial detention that are determined in part by the state Supreme Court.
Medical examiners have yet to determine conclusively whether the body found at the compound outside Amalia was that of Abdul-ghani — the missing son of compound resident Siraj Ibn Wahhaj. Other relatives have said or told authorities that the remains are those of Abdul-ghani.
Backus set bail at $20,000 with no up-front deposit — just a threat of a fine if defendants break condition of their release.
Court testimony Monday by n FBI agent shed light on the fate of the boy whose body was found.
Agent Travis Taylor said a 15-year-old resident of the compound described attempts to cast demonic spirits the child through a ritual that involved reading passages from the Quran while Siraj Ibn Wahhaj held a hand on the boy’s forehead,
The boy apparently died after one of the sessions, Taylor said.