Aug. 30 (UPI) -- A prosecutor said he plans to refile charges against five suspects arrested at a rural New Mexico compound after judges dismissed their child abuse charges over a procedural error.
Two judges dismissed the original child abuse charges against the suspects because they didn't sit for state-mandated preliminary hearings within 10 days. Authorities said the suspects were found with 11 children living in squalor with no fresh water and little food during an Aug. 3 raid to locate 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahaj, of Georgia. The boy was later found dead.
The dismissal of the child abuse charges Wednesday afternoon prompted Eighth Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos' announcement that he would re-file late Wednesday, KOB 4 reported.
District Judge Emilio Chavez dismissed 11 counts of felony child abuse against Hujrah Wahhaj, Subhannah Wahhaj, and Lucas Morten because they didn't have preliminary hearings in the 10-day window for defendants held in custody, state court officials told CNN. The three suspects were released from Taos County Adult Detention Center.
Judge Jeff McElroy made a similar decision for two other suspects, Jany Leveille and the victim's father, Siraj Wahhaj. But they will remain in custody, because of new child abuse charges filed against them last week, the Taos County Sheriff's office said in a Facebook post.
Leveille and Wahhaj have pleaded not guilty. A preliminary hearing for the pair is set for Sept. 7.
A judge ordered the five suspects released on bond on Aug. 13. Prosecutors said they didn't hold a preliminary hearing because they expected the defendants to be released from jail. If that would have happened, they would have had 60 days to hold such hearing.
However, the suspects were not released because they couldn't find housing in Taos County.
The Taos County Sheriff's Office expressed shock and defended its investigation on Facebook.
"Unbelievable events have happened yet again today . . I cannot answer for the prosecution, but I will defend that TCSO stepped up and put the search warrants and charges together lawfully and correctly without waiting on another agency any longer," the post said.
"We have and are still continuing to examine written documents and extract digital evidence with the FBI's help and all agencies involved have provided the necessary discovery that is available on time. BTW, the compound (land) isn't evidence - everything there was diagrammed, photographed and evidence was collected, photographed, and documented properly," it continued.
Law enforcement can no longer re-charge the three suspects, but the prosecuting attorneys can, the sheriff's office said.
"The children are safe and won't be returned anytime soon," it added.