Friday, September 21, 2018

N.M. GOPers assail judge over release of compound defendants on bail

Prosecutors assert group was training children for anti-government mission

  • Compound-Search-Children-Removed-1-7

    In this Monday, Aug. 13, 2018 photo, District Court Judge Sarah Backus presides over the hearing in the Amalia, N.M., desert compound case in Taos, N.M. Backus cleared the way for the release of two men and three women under conditions of house arrest including ankle monitors, 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. Backus’ decision to allow the release of an extended family accused of child abuse at a ramshackle desert compound set off a political uproar. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

    Roberto E. Rosales

  • APTOPIX-Compound-Search-Children-Removed-2

    Defendants, from left, Jany Leveille, Lucas Morton, Siraj Wahhaj and Subbannah Wahhaj enter district court in Taos, N.M., for a detention hearing, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. Several defendants have been charged with child abuse stemming from the alleged neglect of 11 children found living on a squalid compound on the outskirts of tiny Amalia, New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

    Roberto E. Rosales

  • Compound-Search-Children-Removed-2-5

    Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, center, confers with one of his attorneys at a first appearance in New Mexico district court in Taos, N.M., on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, on accusations of child abuse and abducting his son from the boy's mother. Authorities were waiting to learn if human remains found at a disheveled living compound were those of Wahhaj's missing son. Authorities also allege Wahhaj was conducting weapons training with assault rifles at the compound near the Colorado border where they say they found 11 hungry children living in filthy conditions in a raid Friday. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

    Morgan Lee

  • Compound-Search-Children-Removed-3-5

    Various items litter a squalid makeshift living compound in Amalia, N.M., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, where five adults were arrested on child abuse charges and remains of a boy were found. The remains, which haven't been positively identified, may resolve the fate of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, a missing, severely disabled Georgia boy. Eleven other children were found at the compound during a raid last week. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

    Morgan Lee

  • Compound-Search-Children-Removed-4-2

    Various items litter the kitchen of a makeshift living compound in Amalia, N.M., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, where five adults were arrested on child abuse charges and remains of a boy were found. The remains, which haven't been positively identified, may resolve the fate of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, a missing, severely disabled Georgia boy. Eleven other children were found at the compound during a raid last week. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

    Morgan Lee

  • APTOPIX-Compound-Search-Children-Removed-5-2

    Defendant Siraj Wahhaj sits in court in Taos, N.M., for a detention hearing, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. Wahhaj and several others have been charged with child abuse stemming from the alleged neglect of 11 children found living on a squalid compound on the outskirts of tiny Amalia, New Mexico. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

    Roberto E. Rosales

  • Compound-Search-Children-Removed-6-5

    Defendant Subbannah Wahhaj looks toward the judge's bench during a court hearing, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Taos, N.M. Wahhaj was among several people arrested after authorities raided a property and found 11 children living on a squalid compound on the outskirts of tiny Amalia, N.M., a week earlier. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

    Roberto E. Rosales

  • Compound-Search-Children-Removed-7-1

    Defendants Hujrah Wahhaj, left, and Siraj Wahhaj talk during a break in court hearings, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Taos, N.M. The Wahhajs were among several people arrested after authorities raided a property and found 11 children living on a squalid compound on the outskirts of tiny Amalia, N.M., a week earlier. (Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

    Roberto E. Rosales

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.


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