SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Three defendants from an extended family arrested in a 2018 law enforcement raid on a ramshackle desert encampment rejected compromise offers from prosecutors to resolve kidnapping, terrorism and weapons charges in proceedings Friday at U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
The U.S. government's case against sisters Hujrah and Subhannah Wahhaj, along with Subhannah's husband Lucas Morton, will proceed toward a likely trial scheduled for September after the defendants affirmed their rejection of confidential offers to plead guilty in return for specific sanctions.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing asked each one a series of questions to verify that they had reviewed and understood the plea offers and consequences of rejecting them and proceeding toward trial.
"Did anybody threaten you or force you to take the position that you did not want to accept the government's plea offer?" Fashing asked.
"No. ... It was my decision," Hujrah Wahhaj said.
Plea offers are still in limbo for two additional defendants in the case. Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is expected to reject a plea offer but did not attend Friday's hearing because of health issues.
Jany Leveille has agreed to accept a potential prison sentence of 12-15 years with the dismissal of kidnapping and terrorism-related charges — but prosecutors may withdraw the offer based on responses from other defendants, under terms of a "global" plea proposal. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque declined to comment further Friday.
The five defendants were arrested in August 2018 as state agents searched for a sickly 3-year-old who had been reported missing by his mother in Georgia. Sheriff's deputies and state agents initially found 11 hungry children and a small arsenal of ammunition and guns on a remote compound in Taos County, New Mexico. After days of searching, the deputies and agents recovered the decomposed remains of the 3-year-old in an underground tunnel.
Authorities have said the deceased child, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, suffered from untreated disabilities as father Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille performed daily prayer rituals over him — even as he cried and foamed at the mouth. Authorities also said Leveille believed medication suppressed the group's Muslim beliefs.
Forensic specialists determined the child died several months prior to the recovery of his body.
Kidnapping charges have not been filed against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj in the alleged abduction of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj because they are father and son.
Leveille is accused of flouting prohibitions on firearms possession and transportation based on her status as a Haitian national without legal standing in the U.S. after she overstayed a visa without seeking renewal. Convictions also could result in her removal from the U.S.
An initial grand jury indictment alleged Leveille and her partner instructed people at the compound to be prepared to engage in jihad and die as martyrs and that one more relative was invited to bring money and firearms.
All five defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and providing material support to each other as potential terrorists by crossing state lines with firearms and training at the New Mexico compound.
Defense attorneys have said their clients would not be facing terrorism-related charges if they were not Muslim.
Morton is acting as his own legal counsel after declining his right to a public attorney.
Morton told the judge Friday that a security lockdown within the Cibola County Correctional Center at Milan was interfering with his access to a law library to prepare for his defense in court.