Three people accused of involvement in the deaths of two young girls in Norwood last year are to be tried separately, and in Montrose.
The San Miguel County community of Norwood is small and there has been extensive press coverage, said District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller, in explaining why defense attorneys for Madani Ceus, Ashford Archer and Ika Eden sought a venue change.
Hotsenpiller had opposed the motions for venue change, which were granted late last month. The order and the motions were not available.
Motions to sever the cases were heard and granted June 1. Additionally on June 1, Eden was found competent to proceed, based on a competency evaluation that was previously performed, according to information from the District Attorney’s Office.
Ceus is charged with first-degree murder and fatal child abuse in the deaths of sisters Makayla Roberts, 10, and Hannah Marshall, 8.
Archer is charged with fatal child abuse and as an accessory. Eden is charged with fatal child abuse.
The three were originally to be tried together, but now will be tried separately. Eden’s three-week trial was slated to begin here July 10. Archer’s was set to begin Aug. 14 and Ceus is to be tried starting Sept. 10.
The girls’ mother, Nashika Bramble, is charged with first-degree murder and fatal child abuse. Her trial has been tentatively set to begin Dec. 3 at the San Miguel District Court in Telluride.
A fifth defendant, Frederick Blair, recently pleaded guilty to an accessory charge, under an agreement that requires him to fully cooperate with prosecutors. Sentencing is pending the completion of his codefendants’ trials.
Ceus, who went by “Yahweh” and “Ama,” allegedly led Archer, Eden and Bramble in a spiritual quest. In Grand Junction last year, the group encountered Blair, whom Ceus declared to be St. Michael the Archangel, according to court documents. Blair reportedly invited the group to live on his Norwood property.
At some point after the group’s arrival, Ceus allegedly declared Makayla and Hannah had been possessed by unclean spirits during a past life.
Allegedly under her orders, the children were kept in a car on the property, where they went without food and water. Their bodies were discovered after Blair’s father visited the property last September.
Pathologists could not conclusively determine the cause of death, but suspect starvation, dehydration and overheating, according to court documents and other information.
Pretrial proceedings for all defendants are taking place in Telluride, where on June 1, motions to suppress and motions to sever cases began for Ceus, Archer and Eden. These were not completed and a continued hearing has been set for June 26.
Defense attorneys challenged the admission of evidence related to authorities’ initial entry onto Blair’s property; questions asked of Archer at the scene and at jail and questions asked of Ceus at jail, Hotsenpiller said.
The motions to suppress also targeted the search warrant executed on the property, he said.
Another hearing has been set for June 29, regarding evidence that was destroyed through the testing process.