Child abuse charges dismissed in New Mexico desert compound case

TAOS, N.M., Aug 29 (Reuters) - A New Mexico judge on Wednesday dismissed child abuse charges against three people from a desert compound near Taos where a toddler's body was found, citing procedural errors, but he delayed the order to give prosecutors time to refile.

Judge Emilio Chavez dismissed the charges against Subhannah Wahhaj, her husband Lucas Morton and her sister Hujrah Wahhaj, on grounds that a preliminary hearing had not taken place within 10 days after charges were filed against them on Aug. 8 and they were taken into custody. He also ordered their release from jail in Taos.

He said he would not file his order until 2 p.m. local time (2000 GMT), giving state prosecutors time to refile the charges, a move that would keep the three defendants behind bars.

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"The state made not one request for a preliminary hearing, the state made not one request for an extension," Chavez said.

State prosecutor John Lovelace said he would consider refiling the charges.

"We respect the judge's decision," said Lovelace, declining further comment.

Lovelace told the court that he believed "exceptional circumstances" surrounding the inability of the defendants to meet bail requirements and leave jail meant the 10-day rule did not apply in this case.

The three defendants were arrested after an Aug. 3 police raid on their settlement in Amalia, New Mexico, after reports that 11 children at their makeshift encampment were starving. The children were taken into protective custody.

The body of a missing three-year-old was found three days later at the compound.

Two other defendants, Jany Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, face additional child abuse charges for the death of the boy, identified as Wahhaj's son, who died Dec. 24, according to Taos County Sheriff's office. ( Editing by Frank McGurty)