Trial to begin in Taos kidnapping, terrorism case

Sep. 22—New Mexico became the focus of national attention in 2018 when two men and three women were found living with 11 children in a makeshift compound north of Taos stocked with guns and ammunition, a firing range and a mysterious 100-foot tunnel.

Jury selection will begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, where attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice counterterrorism section will attempt to show the five traveled to New Mexico from Georgia "to get an army together" and train them "to kill people for Allah."

A federal criminal complaint charging the five in August 2018 contained allegations of terrorism and kidnapping, motivated by bizarre notions of "jihad," exorcism and "black magic."

The case came to light in August 2018 when law enforcement officials raided the ramshackle compound searching for a severely ill boy reported missing by his mother in Georgia.

Authorities found 11 malnourished children and the remains of a 4-year-old boy in the tunnel. All but the boy's father are facing federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

Early on, the U.S. Attorney's office announced it would not seek the death penalty against the four facing kidnapping charges.

A superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in March 2019 in Albuquerque identifies the five defendants as Jany Leveille, 40; Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 45; Hujrah Wahhaj, 40; Subhanah Wahhaj, 40; and Lucas Morton, 45.

The charges include providing material support to terrorists, conspiracy to murder an officer or employee of the United States and illegal possession of firearms, and several conspiracy charges. Prosecutors on Thursday dropped the illegal firearms possession charge and one of the conspiracy charges.

In February, Leveille entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors, raising the possibility that she could testify at trial.

Chief U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson, the presiding judge, issued an opinion earlier this month in which he outlined key allegations in the case.

"The overarching agreement in this case revolves around the Defendants' plan to take John Doe (the child), separate themselves from the outside world, and train as an armed group to prepare for a societal cleansing," Johnson wrote.

An initial criminal complaint filed in August 2018 contains allegations that sound like the plot of a lurid TV drama — allegations defense attorneys have argued are inflammatory and prejudicial. One defendant tried without success to prevent the word "compound" from being used to describe their "family home" in Taos, arguing that it carries a negative connotation that might inflame the jury.

The federal complaint alleges that Leveille became pregnant in Georgia about the same time that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj's wife, identified as Jane Doe, also became pregnant.

After Leveille's pregnancy failed, "Jany (Laveille) formed the belief that Jane Doe became pregnant only by engaging in 'black magic' that resulted in Jany's baby being transferred from Jany into Jane Doe's womb," the complaint alleges.

When the group moved to New Mexico, Leveille took the child with her in the belief that the severely ill child was her own, the complaint said.

Once in New Mexico, Leveille had planned "to perform an exorcism on him, to cast the demons from his body, after which he would come to life as Isa," an Islamic prophet or messiah, the complaint said. Laveille believed Isa then would instruct the others "what corrupt institutions they needed to get rid of," including military, law enforcement and financial institutions, it said.

The boy, who died at age 4, was wheelchair-bound and had a history of developmental delay and seizure disorder, according to the New Mexico Office of Medical Investigator records. His decomposed remains were located in the underground bunker at the compound. Because of the condition of the body, the OMI ruled the manner and cause of death as "undetermined."

Prosecutors allege the defendants concealed the boy's whereabouts from his mother, who reported his disappearance to law enforcement, leading to the 2018 raid on the New Mexico compound.

Leveille has pleaded guilty to a federal firearms charge and a conspiracy charge and faces up to 15 years in prison. She admitted acting with her four co-defendants to transport firearms from Georgia to New Mexico "for use in establishing a firearms and military tactics training range," according to the plea agreement.

In December 2017, the group collected at least 11 firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in Georgia and drove them to a site in Taos County where they "built and maintained a compound" that included a "firing range and tactical training ground."

Leveille admitted living at the compound from December 2017 to August 2018 with 11 children. During that time, Lucas Morton and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj "trained persons, including my minor children, in firearms use and tactical maneuvers."

Under the agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining charges against Leveille following sentencing, which has not been scheduled.

In the years since their arrest, four of the defendants underwent examinations to determine if they were mentally competent to stand trial. All were eventually deemed competent.

Meanwhile, Morton has decided to represent himself at trial. A standby attorney has been appointed for Morton.