ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (Reuters) - Five members of a New Mexico compound facing federal firearms and conspiracy charges will seek bail again, a defense lawyer said on Tuesday, just days after two state judges and prosecutors dismissed child abuse charges against the defendants on procedural grounds.
The five Muslim defendants made their first appearance in U.S. District Court of New Mexico in Albuquerque on Tuesday, four days after the FBI charged them with violating weapons and conspiracy laws.
This comes weeks after a state judge received death threats for granting bail to the group accused of child abuse and planning “jihad”. In August, police raided their makeshift settlement and found 11 children without food or clean water and a cache of weapons. Three days later police found the body of a toddler.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kirtan Khalsa on Tuesday said she would seek additional information from probation officers ahead of making a bail decision in the controversial case. She was due to make a ruling on bail on Wednesday.
“It could go either way, it depends a lot on a person’s background,” federal defense attorney Kari Converse, who is representing three of the defendants, said of the bail decision.
Federal prosecutor George Kraehe, speaking at the hearing on Tuesday, said the U.S. government would seek their detention without bail.
The FBI arrested the five in Taos, about 95 miles (153 km) north of Albuquerque, after three of them had state child abuse charges dismissed and were released from jail due to a procedural error by prosecutors.
The FBI charged Jany Leveille, a 35-year-old female Haitian national, with being in the United States illegally and unlawfully in possession of firearms. Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40; Hujrah Wahhaj, 37; Subhanah Wahhaj, 35; and Lucas Morton, 40, were charged with aiding and conspiring with her.
In an affidavit, the FBI said a teenage boy among the group, taken into custody at the compound, told agents Ibn Wahhaj was “trying to put an army together” to conduct “jihad” against non-believers, according to federal court documents.
The boy told the FBI he watched his mother, Leveille, and her partner Ibn Wahhaj perform a faith healing ritual over the three-year old boy during which the child choked and his heart stopped, according to the special agent’s affidavit.
Defense lawyers have said the five adults were exercising their rights to practice their religion and own firearms, and they are being discriminated against for being black and Muslim.
State prosecutors on Friday dismissed charges against Leveille and Ibn Wahhaj for the death of the toddler. Taos County District Attorney Donald Gallegos said in a statement that he planned to refile the charges, as well as child abuse charges against the three other defendants to a grand jury on Sept. 27.
Reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Bill Tarrant and Diane Craft