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Taos DA plans to refile charges in compound case

September 1, 2018

TAOS — District Attorney Donald Gallegos posted a statement Thursday on Facebook defending his office from widespread criticism over its failure to meet a critical deadline in a high-profile child abuse case, which led to dismissal of charges Wednesday and the release of three of the five suspects from jail.

Gallegos said charges will be refiled against all the suspects, who were arrested earlier this month after a law enforcement raid at their makeshift homestead near the Colorado border.

Investigators say 11 children were found living in squalid conditions at the site, and the body of a missing Georgia toddler, the son of a defendant in the case, was found buried in a tunnel.

“We are assessing and will decide which avenue to pursue,” Gallegos wrote. “What is important to know is that we will continue to pursue the prosecution of the cases.”

In back-to-back hearings Wednesday, state District Court Judges Emilio Chavez and Jeff McElroy dismissed 11 child neglect charges against each defendant — one for each child taken into state custody — saying state prosecutors had failed to hold preliminary hearings in the case within 10 days of the defendants’ incarceration.

The judges dismissed those charges without prejudice, leaving the district attorney with options: Refile the charges or take the case before a grand jury.

Lucas Allen Morton, 40; Hujrah Wahhaj, 37; and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, were released from jail after the ruling.Two others, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, and his wife, Jany Leveille, 35, remain held on additional charges filed Aug. 24 in the death of 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.

The boy’s mother had reported him missing in early December from his home in an Atlanta suburb. Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, his father, is accused of abducting the boy, whose decomposed remains were discovered three days after the raid. Authorities believe the child died during a prayer ritual Dec. 24.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille are accused of denying the boy his medication and face felony counts of conspiracy and child abuse resulting in his death.

In spite of legal missteps in the case, Gallegos stood behind attorneys Tim Hasson and John Lovelace.

“My staff has worked diligently, professionally and ethically,” Gallegos wrote on Facebook, “and I am very proud of them. Additionally, all the agencies who have been involved in the investigation have done a good job of collecting evidence and discussing issues with us. There is still a great deal of information still coming in and we must review it all.”

Gallegos asked the public to avoid vitriol and threats.

“Cussing and threatening the people involved will not accomplish justice and serves no useful purpose,” he wrote. “Remember, you do not have all the facts. That will develop as the cases progress.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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