The Docket – December 6

Compiled by John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 12/6/18

The following is a selected overview of recent case activity in or related to the Taos County court system. All dates and times are subject to change.

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The Docket – December 6

Posted

The following is a selected overview of recent case activity in or related to the Taos County court system. All dates and times are subject to change.

Trials

Dec. 17

Daniel Kesner, jury trial – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

Kesner, a 43-year-old Ranchos de Taos man, is scheduled to appear for trial to face charges for allegedly battering another individual with a vehicle in 2016.

According to a criminal complaint filed in district court, Kesner allegedly entered a red Dodge pickup truck belonging to Adonais Gonzalez on April 5, 2016, and then battered Gonzalez with the truck. Other details of the alleged battery were not described in court records.

Kesner was also charged with burglary of a vehicle, larceny, for allegedly stealing items from Gonzalez, and criminal damage to property, related to damages allegedly caused to Gonzalez’s property.

The 43-year-old was arrested on warrant by New Mexico State Police in the Talpa area this past February.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

Other events

Oct. 25

Travis Walker, plea agreement – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

Walker, a 23-year-old Ranchos de Taos man, was sentenced to 314 days in prison this fall after accepting a plea agreement struck with the state.

The case originated in December 2017, when Walker allegedly kidnapped his former boss at gunpoint in the Ranchos de Taos area, forced the man into the trunk of a car and drove him around in search of cash and drugs.

Originally charged with five counts, Walker pleaded guilty to one count of attempt to commit a violent felony while the four other counts – aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and kidnapping – were dismissed.

In exchange, the state suspended an original prison sentence of approximately nine years, pending Walker’s completion of just under a year in prison, followed by five years of parole.

If Walker had been convicted at trial, he faced a prison sentence of more than 20 years.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

Oct. 2

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Jany Leveille, Lucas Morton, Hujrah Wahhaj, Subhannah Wahhaj – U.S. District Court (Albuquerque), Río Grande Courtroom, Judge Kirtan Khalsa

A United States attorney in Albuquerque filed a motion this fall indicating that terrorism and kidnapping charges may be added to a federal firearms case filed against five adults arrested at a makeshift compound near Amalia in early August.

The case originated with child abuse charges filed in the Taos County court system. The five adults were charged with keeping 11 children, and a twelfth child, who was later found dead at the property, in squalid living conditions. The twelfth child suffered from seizures and was allegedly kidnapped by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, from his mother’s home in Georgia in November 2017.

Firearms, high quantities of ammunition, a shooting range and materials describing how to carry out a terrorist attack were also found at the compound, located a few miles south of the Colorado border.

Allegations of an alleged plot to train the children who lived at the compound to attack “government institutions,” as detailed in a journal belonging to Leveille, were referenced in detention hearings later in the month. Records of foreign travel to Saudi Arabia and Morocco by another defendant, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj,  were also referenced by prosecutors. Charges related to terrorism, however, were never filed.

After Taos County prosecutors failed to hold preliminary hearings for the defendants in accordance with state deadlines, the abuse charges were dropped. The five were then arrested at the end of August on a federal complaint alleging they had provided Leveille, an undocumented Haitian immigrant, with firearms, and had aided her in crossing state lines, from Georgia to New Mexico, with the weapons.

The complaint also charged the five with conspiracy, a charge that prosecutor John C. Anderson described as “broad” in the recent motion. Anderson moved to delay a trial for the federal case, which had been set for Nov. 5, to allow both the government and the defendants time to prepare for new charges in the case. He said an ongoing federal investigation may soon bring federal charges of kidnapping and  “providing material support to terrorists.”

Defense counsel for all five defendants submitted a motion at the end of October that recommended language of “unnecessary and extraordinarily inflammatory and prejudicial allegations of terrorism and mistreatment of children” be struck from the case. They argued that such claims did not pertain to the charges filed and would unfairly bias a jury.

As for the possible terrorism charge, the defense attorneys argued that no connection has been drawn between their clients and any known terrorist group.

The defendants are currently detained, following a September finding by federal Judge Kirtan Khalsa that all five posed a danger to the community.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

Nov. 19

Adam Casados, case dismissal – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

The 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office dismissed a possession of a controlled substance charge and use or possession of drug paraphernalia charge filed against Casados after lab results came back negative for controlled substances.

Casados, 28, of Chamisal was arrested last March in a multi-agency drug bust.

His case was dismissed Nov. 19 when prosecutors learned of the negative test result.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

Dec. 3

Carla Casias, order extending time – Taos District Court, courtroom not specified, Judge T. Glenn Ellington

Judge Ellington stipulated an order this month to allow defense counsel for Casias and co-defendant Isaac Martinez additional time to respond to a state’s motion to admit cell phone evidence previously barred from an armed robbery case.

In 2013, a grand jury indicted Casias and Martinez on conspiracy to commit armed robbery and armed robbery after a gunman stole $110,000 in cash from an employee carrying a bank deposit in the parking lot of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. Critical to the indictments was the presentation of cell phone records belonging to the defendants that allegedly indicated their plot to carry out the robbery.

The cases were later thrown out, however, after former Taos District Court Judge John Paternoster learned that the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office had subpoenaed the cell phone records without the approval of a judge or grand jury. District Attorney Donald Gallegos and former prosecutor Emilio Chavez were reprimanded by the supreme court for the illegal issuance of the subpoenas.

The New Mexico Supreme Court in April reversed Paternoster’s decision to dismiss the grand jury indictments, reopening the case.

Since then, defense counsel for both Casias and Martinez has moved to suppress the cell phone evidence due to the unlawful subpoenas issued in 2013.

The Taos district attorney submitted a 17-page motion to reintroduce the records as the cases move forward. While it acknowledges that the records were “seized unlawfully,” it notes that they “would have been seized independently and lawfully in due course under New Mexico’s inevitable discovery rule ...”

On Monday (Dec. 3), Judge Ellington granted the defense until Jan. 15, 2019 to file its response to the state’s motion.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

Dec. 4

John Rael, plea conference – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

Rael, a former coach with the Questa School District, accepted a plea agreement this week in a case that had charged him with raping a 14-year-old girl in 2016.

The former Rio Rancho resident pleaded no contest to two counts of an eight-count indictment, including bribery of a witness, a third-degree felony, and false imprisonment, a fourth-degree felony. The other six counts, which included two counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor in the first degree, were dismissed.

For more on this case, refer to our December 4 coverage and our past coverage.

Dec. 4

James Brown, motion to continue – Taos District Court, Courtroom A, Judge Sarah Backus

A child sexual abuse case scheduled to go to trial this week against Brown, 43, of Peñasco has been postponed.

The trial was delayed after Judge Backus approved a motion for a continuance from the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. In the motion, state prosecutor John Lovelace noted that a forensic scientist set to testify at trial would be unavailable this week.

The trial was to determine whether Brown began a sexual relationship with the juvenile in March 2016.

Brown was arrested on Oct. 3, 2017 on 12 counts, including three counts of criminal sexual penetration of a minor in the first degree, three in the second degree, three in the third degree and three in the fourth degree.

The Río Arriba County Sheriff’s Office initiated the investigation into the alleged abuse, but later requested that New Mexico State Police take charge of the case.

Evidence obtained during the investigation allegedly indicates that Brown had sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl “at least (30) different times since March 2016,” according to a press release from state police.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

Dec. 18

Viola Quintana, plea conference – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

Quintana, a 73-year-old Peñasco woman, is set to appear for a plea conference related to a trafficking controlled substances case filed against her in March.

The 73-year-old was among several individuals arrested during a multi-agency drug arrest this year.

A criminal complaint filed in the case alleges Quintana was repackaging hydrocodone, a prescribed opioid-based painkiller, for resale. She was charged with one count of drug trafficking, a second-degree felony.

Details of a plea agreement proposed in her case were not known as of press time.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage.

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