SANTA FE, N.M.—Prosecutors on Friday charged the father and stepmother of a 3-year-old boy whose body was found at a ramshackle compound in northern New Mexico with child abuse charges that can carry a penalty of life in prison.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his partner Jany Leveille are accused of failing to provide medication to a son of Wahhaj’s who had a severe medical condition that was well known to the family, according to charges of child abuse resulting in death and conspiracy to commit child abuse filed by the district attorney’s office in Taos.
Wahhaj is the father of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, whose remains were discovered inside an underground tunnel at a compound near the Colorado state line.
The defendants were among five adults and 11 children found living in squalor during an Aug. 3 raid on the compound. The boy’s remains were found three days later.
A lawyer for Siraj Ibn Wahhaj did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Kelly Golightley, an attorney for Leveille, said she had not seen the charges or accompanying warrant and that her client maintains her innocence.
Leveille also is being held on accusations by federal immigration authorities that she overstayed her non-immigrant visitor visa after arriving 20 years ago in the United States from her native Haiti. She was returned Thursday to Taos from a federal holding facility in Texas.
The boy initially was reported missing last year from Jonesboro, Georgia, by his mother, Hakima Ramzi, after Wahhaj said he was taking the child to a park and didn’t return.
In an affidavit accompanying the new charges, prosecutors outlined allegations that Wahhaj and his son left Georgia without taking medications the boy needed to treat severe health problems, including seizures that stemmed from a lack of oxygen and blood flow at birth.
The affidavit alleges that Leveille and Wahhaj witnessed the boy’s seizures and knew he had a diagnosed seizure disorder but apparently provided no medication and took no action to seek proper medical care.
Prosecutors quote an extensive account of the child’s death as written in a journal entry that they attribute to Leveille, indicating that Abdul-ghani died in late December 2017 as the exhausted boy’s heartbeat faded in and out during a religious ritual accompanied by a reading of the Quran and aimed at casting out demonic spirits.
The ritual and the boy’s death were described at earlier court hearings by an FBI agent who drew on information from interviews with teenagers who lived at the compound. The descriptions conform with aspects of an alternative, meditative Islamic healing ritual called ruqya.
The New Mexico Office of Medical Inspector has not yet determined how Abdul-ghani died. Spokeswoman Alex Sanchez said Friday that the agency is performing analyses.
All five defendants arrested at the compound have been charged with child neglect and are being held in jail.
Also Friday, prosecutors filed a lengthy appeal of a district judge’s order that could allow at least three of the defendants to be released on house arrest with ankle monitors.
Prosecutors have alleged that older children were trained to handle firearms to possibly order attacks on government institutions.
Judge Sarah Backus said the previous evidence provided by prosecutors was troubling but did not indicate any clear threat to public safety from the defendants, who have no criminal records.
That decision led to death threats against the judge and outraged calls from politicians — including New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and candidates vying to succeed her — to reconsider recent reforms to the state’s bail procedures.
By Morgan Lee