Two suspects face charges in child’s death at Amalia compound
TAOS — Two suspects arrested earlier this month on allegations of child abuse at a compound in Northern New Mexico faced new charges Friday of conspiracy and child abuse resulting in the death of a Georgia toddler whose remains were found on the property. The pair are accused of denying medication to the sick child, who suffered severe seizures.
Both counts are first-degree felonies and could mean life imprisonment for the boy’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, and his wife, Jany Leveille, 35, if they are found guilty.
According to evidence released Friday, Wahhaj and Leveille believed 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj’s epilepsy medications — Keppra and diazepam — caused him to become possessed by “demons or devils,” which they believed could be expelled with an Islamic prayer ritual known as a ruqya.
Investigators say Leveille cataloged the progress of the rituals in an electronic journal recovered from a flash drive she kept at the compound.
Details of the journal were included in a complaint Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe filed Friday in a state District Court charging Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille in Abdul-Ghani’s death, which court documents indicate occurred in late December.
Earlier this month, law enforcement raided the makeshift compound north of Amalia, a community near the Colorado border, in search of Abdul-Ghani, whose mother had reported him missing from Georgia in early December. Authorities took 11 children into protective custody, citing squalid living conditions and hunger. Wahhaj and Leveille, along with three other adult suspects, were arrested on suspicion of abusing the 11 children.
Abdul-Ghani was not among them. His body was found three days later inside a 100-foot tunnel on the property.
According to court documents, Leveille’s journal says Wahhaj was reciting prayers from the Quran over the sick child on Dec. 24, 2017, and was alarmed when the boy’s heartbeat became faint.
She wasn’t concerned that the boy’s health might be failing and encouraged Wahhaj to continue with the ritual, Leveille wrote. “Checking with Allah, I assured him to have no fear, and that it was perhaps an illusion,” the journal entry reads, according to investigators.
At the end of the journal entry, Leveille wrote that the boy’s heartbeat then stopped and wouldn’t return. The boy died because he was possessed, she said, writing: “How could a Quranic recitation execute a child?”
According to investigators, none of the five adults living at the compound had ever refilled the boy’s prescriptions or sought medical attention for his seizures. When his mother, Hakima Ramzi, reported in early December that Wahhaj had taken the boy from his home in Georgia, she said she was worried because Wahhaj didn’t have the child’s medication.
Georgia authorities have charged Wahhaj with kidnapping.
Along with Wahhaj and Leveille, the three others arrested on child abuse charges were Wahhaj’s sisters Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, and his brother-in-law Lucas Morton, 40.
Hogrefe has alleged the children were malnourished and had been subjected to living conditions he described as some of the worst he had ever seen.
State District Judge Sarah Backus granted the five defendants release from jail on bond and other conditions during an Aug. 13 hearing on prosecutors’ motion to keep them jailed until their trials. The District Attorney’s Office in Taos County plans to file an appeal of Backus’ controversial decision.
Travis Taylor, a special agent with the FBI in Albuquerque, testified at the hearing he had interviewed two child witnesses from the compound who told him Abdul-Ghani died during a ruqya in February.
The children told the agent Leveille believed she was receiving divine messages from the “Angel Gabriel,” and that Abdul-Ghani would resurrect as “Jesus” to instruct the other children which “corrupt” government institutions they were to either convert to their beliefs or destroy, according to Taylor’s testimony.
No charges associated with those allegations have been filed.
Following the Aug. 13 hearing, Leveille, an immigrant from Haiti, was detained by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and taken to a facility in El Paso, Hogrefe said. On Thursday, she was brought back to the Taos County jail, where she and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj were served with the new charges.
Earlier this week, state prosecutors dropped a fugitive from justice charge against Wahhaj, and a judge altered the bond requirements for the four co-defendants held in the Taos jail, replacing cash bonds with $5,000 appearance bonds.
They have been ordered to wear GPS ankle monitors upon release and be placed on house arrest. They cannot return to the compound, however, because authorities demolished it last week.
Defense attorneys also filed motions this week to dismiss the abuse cases against Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj, citing continued delays by state prosecutors.