Five members of a disbanded New Mexico compound where a young boy was found dead and 11 other children were living in squalor appeared in federal court for the first time Tuesday and said they understood the firearms and conspiracy charges against them.
They’re scheduled for detention and preliminary hearings Wednesday and are likely to be appointed public defenders.
Haitian immigrant Jany Leveille, 35, charged with being in the United States illegally and unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition, was at the forefront of Tuesday’s court hearing in Albuquerque.
The other four suspects — Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40; Hujrah Wahhaj, 37; Subhannah Wahhaj, 35; and Lucas Morton, 40 — are charged with aiding and abetting with Leveille and conspiring with her.
Charges of child abuse resulting in death against Leveille and her partner, Ibn Wahhaj, were dismissed by local prosecutors Friday. A judge had previously dismissed felony child neglect charges against all the defendants because prosecutors missed a 10-day limit for setting a hearing to establish probable cause.
Taos District Attorney Donald Gallegos said Friday he will seek indictments in connection with the death of Ibn Wahhaj’s 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, and the filthy living conditions at the makeshift compound where the other children were found emaciated.
Gallegos said seeking indictments will allow more time to gather evidence.
During Tuesday's brief hearing, Ibn Wahhaj and Morton, both wearing skull caps, were seated separately from the female defendants, who also wore head covers, CNN reported. All of them wore casual clothing rather than prison attire.
Leveille came to the U.S. on a six-month, non-immigrant visa in 1998 but has not received additional visas, according to the criminal complaint in the case. Her May 2017 application for permanent residency was denied, the complaint says.
Tuesday’s developments represent the latest legal steps in a mystifying saga involving the inhabitants of a rickety compound in a remote high-desert part of northern New Mexico near the Colorado border.
They were discovered during a raid Aug. 3 after a message that said, “We are starving and need food and water,’’ reached the office of Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe. The message is believed to have come from inside the compound.
Authorities found not only the malnourished children, ranging in age from 1 to 15, but also a cache of at least 11 firearms, including an AR-15 rifle, and loads of ammunition.
Hogrefe said there was hardly any food in the compound, which was made up of a trailer buried in the ground covered by tarps, with no running water or electricity.
All five adults were arrested.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj also has an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Georgia, charging him with the December kidnapping of his now-deceased son.
Warrants for Siraj's arrest claimed he took his son to perform an exorcism on the child, who was seriously disabled, and was denying him medication.
After the raid, officials also presented several pieces of evidence, including alleged manuals on how to build untraceable weapons. In addition, according to testimony, some of the 11 children were handling ammunition and a least one child was armed, WXIA-TV reported.
Court documents indicate Leveille's 13-year-old son told investigators that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj wanted to "get an army together'' and train the boys for jihad against non-believers on behalf of Allah.
Prosecutors also allege that one of the rescued children said the suspects "trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings."
In a 2006 federal court filing obtained by The Associated Press, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj identified himself as “the son of the famous Muslim Imam Siraj Wahhaj.”
Contributing: The Associated Press; Mike James, USA TODAY