The father of a 3-year-old boy found dead in a filthy New Mexico compound pleaded not guilty Wednesday to new charges of child abuse resulting in death as lesser charges were dismissed against him and other members of his extended family because prosecutors missed a deadline.
The dead boy’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, and his partner, Jany Leveille, who is charged with the same crime, remained silent as pleas were entered on their behalf. The charges could carry life sentences in the death of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj.
Their pleas followed a decision by a judge to dismiss initial child neglect charges against them. Another judge made the same decision Wednesday in the cases of the other three defendants.
The five were arrested this month at a remote desert compound where 11 children were found living in filth and the body of the 3-year-old boy was discovered.
Authorities say Wahhaj and Leveille denied the boy proper medicine and health care as he died in December 2017 during a religious ritualaimed at casting out demonic spirits.
Prosecutors had pressed to keep the group behind bars and planned to present new evidence of an anti-government plot and talk of jihad and martyrdom among some members of the extended Muslim family.
Defense attorneys say their clients have no record of criminal convictions and pose no risk to the public. Federal immigration authorities say Leveille, a native of Haiti, has been in the United States unlawfully for 20 years after overstaying a visitor visa.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille could be held for up to five days while awaiting a hearing on whether they can be held without bond pending trial.
A judge ruled the other three defendants could be released as early as Wednesday, depending on what action prosecutors take.
Prosecutor John Lovelace said no decisions have been made on how the district attorney’s office will proceed.
Prosecutors have other options for pursuing charges against the three, including seeking indictments from a grand jury.
Prosecutors said in court filings they have discovered a hand-written document called “Phases of a Terrorist Attack” that was seized from the compound and includes vague instructions for “the one-time terrorist” and mentioned an unnamed place called “the ideal attack site.”
Prosecutors wrote in court filings that new interviews with some of the children removed from the compound revealed that one of the adults, Lucas Morton, stated he wished to die in jihad as a martyr and that Leveille and Subhannah Wahhaj joked about dying in jihad.
The new charges of child abuse resulting in death against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille are tied to an extensive account of Abdul-ghani’s death in a journal that prosecutors attribute to Leveille.
The boy’s mother initially reported the boy missing last year from Jonesboro, Georgia, after Siraj Ibn Wahhaj said he was taking the child to a park and never returned. Forensic medical investigators have not yet identified the cause and manner of the boy’s death.