Opinion: Multiple problems with DA prosecution of compound case

By Anthony J. Ayala , Talpa
Posted 4/11/19

By Anthony Ayala Taos Deputy District Attorney Tim Hasson states in his March 21 editorial ("DA's Office Explains, Defends Record in Complex Compound Case Involving Five Defendants") that he was …

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Opinion: Multiple problems with DA prosecution of compound case

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Taos Deputy District Attorney Tim Hasson states in his March 21 editorial ("DA's Office Explains, Defends Record in Complex Compound Case Involving Five Defendants") that he was involved in the effort that kept the compound defendants - who were arrested at the makeshift site near Amalia, N.M. – in custody since the day they were arrested, and further that "we at the district attorney’s office are proud of the role we have played, and Taoseños may be proud as well.”

First, the defendants did not remain in custody since they were arrested; they were released because Mr. Hasson and the DA's office failed to follow the time requirements of the 10-day rule; and second, Taos is not “proud” because the DA did not prosecute for the (alleged) murder of a three-year-old child found buried in a tunnel like a dog. Mr. Hanson blames everybody for not being able to prosecute for the murder, including Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe, however, the DA’s office was allowed to be present in the collection of the evidence at the compound including allowing Mr. Hasson to crawl into the tunnel with Sheriff Hogrefe to view the remains of three-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. Rather than preparing the murder case of the child for a grand jury or preliminary hearing, Mr. Hasson by his own admission “consulted with national experts on Islamic law and practices, as well as on certain cult practices” to understand the Islamic religion.

Also, Mr. Hasson criticizes (then) Judge Sarah Backus; yet, he brought frivolous charges before the court, and then argued evidence including that obtained from “experts” in various areas that had no merit or no relation to the murder. What resulted is Judge Backus having to deal with a backlash of national proportions and death threats all because of the DA’s incompetence and which ended up in her resignation. I have tried both jury and non-jury cases before Judge Sarah Backus; and it was painful to see her face criticism, which she did not deserve. I was even more painful to see her resign.

Also, Mr. Hasson argues that “the real problem” was that his office missed the 10-day deadline for a hearing because the private contractor who provides ankle monitors refused to do so in this case, and that that resulted in the cases being dismissed. The real problem is that the DA’s office was more focused on playing to the press rather than doing the legal work necessary to present a straightforward prosecution for the murder of the boy.

Mr. Hasson did not need to spend so much time learning about “Islam”; his office did not have the jurisdiction to bring the terrorist or firearm charges that the United States government finally did. What Mr. Hasson needed to do was to get back to legal basics by reading the New Mexico statutes on how properly to prosecute a murder case. Donald Gallegos should have been supervising both Mr. Hasson and John Lovelace. He didn’t and they did what they wanted to, which was wrong, terribly wrong.

The “real problem” was that Mr. Hasson and John Lovelace should have been trained and supervised attorneys. Did they receive any disciplinary action? No. Mr. Gallegos indicated that “he supported his staff,” two show-off lawyers for the press, one of which is now seeking the job of Judge Backus. Hasson makes several excuses for the case being botched. As a fellow member of the bar and Taos resident, I would ask Mr. Hasson not to insult our intelligence and rather than writing any more disingenuous letters defending his actions on the case, that he write a letter that Donald Gallegos and John Lovelace should also sign directed to all Taos residents apologizing for allowing the murder of the boy to go unpunished.

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