By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - Two New Mexico judges on Wednesday dismissed child abuse charges against five people from a desert compound near Taos where a toddler's body was found, citing procedural errors by prosecutors.
The judges, in separate decisions issued in New Mexico's Eighth Judicial District Court, dismissed the child abuse charges on grounds that a preliminary hearing had not taken place within 10 days after they were filed on Aug. 8 when the defendants were taken into custody.
Judge Jeff McElroy dismissed child abuse charges against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his wife, Jany Laveille. The two face separate charges for the death of Wahhaj's 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, whose body was found earlier this month. Laveille, a Haitian national, is also being held on immigration charges.
Judge Emilio Chavez earlier ordered charges to be dropped against three other defendants, Subhannah Wahhaj; her husband, Lucas Morton; and sister Hujrah Wahhaj, and for them to be released from jail in Taos.
Chavez had given state prosecutors a deadline of 2 p.m. (2000 GMT) Wednesday to refile the charges, a move that would have kept those three defendants behind bars. State prosecutors had not refiled charges by then, according to the court clerk's office.
"We must comply with this rule and I must dismiss these charges," McElroy said, adding that the Eighth Judicial District Attorney's office in Taos County had failed to follow a basic procedural rule.
State prosecutor John Lovelace told the court 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.
Prosecutors have said they would present new evidence of a plot by the defendants to attack "corrupt institutions."
Defense attorneys say their clients have no record of criminal convictions and pose no risk to the public.
The five defendants were arrested after an Aug. 3 police raid on their makeshift encampment in Amalia, New Mexico, after reports that 11 children were starving there. The children were taken into protective custody.
The body of the missing 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was found three days later in a tunnel at the compound. The severely disabled boy was abducted from Wahhaj's first wife in Georgia and died on Dec. 24, according to the Taos County Sheriff's office.
(Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)