Swift guilty verdict for final defendant in Norwood cult deaths

In Ika Eden’s view, everything that happened on a Norwood farm four years ago was ordained — including the deaths of two children — and her subsequent trial for fatal abuse was meant to bring about an “awakening.”

“This trial is the opening of the Book of Daniel and the Revelation,” she told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday.

“You’re the ones playing the cards. Play well,” she said.

The Mesa County jury quickly played the hand dealt by the evidence: Ika Eden had, as a member of a religious sect, acted knowingly with others in depriving Makayla Roberts, 10, and her sister, Hannah Marshall, 8, of food and water, leading to their deaths in the summer of 2017.

Within a half hour, jurors convicted Ika Eden of reckless child abuse resulting in death, rejecting the lesser charge of negligent child abuse resulting in death, as well as the defendant’s general assertion: that her role had been one of inaction, based on the practice of her beliefs, so she did not have the legally culpable mental state necessary to have “knowingly” brought harm or risk to Hannah and Makayla.

Ika Eden, who uses both names, was part of a traveling sect that in 2017 moved onto the Norwood farm of Frederick “Alec” Blair, a recent convert.

Leader Madani Ceus, who was called “Yahweh,” declared both sisters impure and ordered them to stay in a parked vehicle.

Per Ika Eden’s testimony Tuesday, Ceus told others not to help or feed them, except at the peril of their own souls. Believing the end of days was at hand, Ika Eden said she obeyed; she didn’t want to take the risk and because Hannah and Makayla were really just the human embodiments of evil spirits, she wanted them to reap what they had sowed, she said.

The children died in that car of likely heat, thirst and starvation, pathologists said. Their bodies were discovered Sept. 8, 2017, when Blair’s father visited his son.

Ceus, Ika Eden, Blair and fellow sect members Ashford Archer and Nashika Bramble (the girls’ mother), were ultimately arrested; Ika Eden was the last to go to trial and represented herself.

Before they died, Makayla and Hannah were “tacitly dehumanized,” Deputy District Attorney Robert Whiting said in his closing statements Wednesday. Instead of calling them by name, the group called the sisters Pink 1 and Pink 2, after the color of their robes — a marked contrast to Ika Eden’s prior testimony as to the importance of names, he said. (During her closing statement, Ika Eden said the girls were called Pink because their “auric feel” was hot pink.)

Whiting in his closing hammered home Ika Eden’s testimony Tuesday: She acknowledged she played a caregiver’s role to the children. When the mandate came not to feed the girls, Ika Eden obeyed.

She “repeatedly” acknowledged the girls were not given food or water — despite knowing they would die, Whiting said. She ignored their cries as she passed by the car at least once a day. As the sisters slowly starved, pounds and pounds of usable dried goods were “within throwing distance” of that car, Whiting said.

“Even if you deeply believe in what you’re doing, you are capable of violating the law,” he said, telling the jury its role was to determine whether the evidence showed the law was broken, and not to judge why.

“You’re being asked to determine accountability in these deaths, not justice. This is the criminal accountability process,” Whiting said.

For that determination, it does not matter if Ika Eden was acting on her beliefs and that she would face metaphysical consequences if she did not, he said.

“Much like many true believes through history, those consequences were to occur after this plane. Here, they explain she had a motive. She acted knowingly. That’s what matters here,” Whiting said.

“It takes a village to raise a child. It took a village to let these children die. It required consensus.” The “village,” he went on to say, had intended for Hannah and Makayla to die and Ika Eden knew it.

The others’ roles in what happened do not absolve Ika Eden, the prosecutor said. Further, a person does not have to be the biological parent of a child to be guilty of fatal abuse.

“You don’t have to be their mother. You don’t have to be the embodiment of Yahweh,” Whiting said.

“Not doing something is a form of conduct … particularly when an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old rely on you for that. That’s why they were calling her name in the end,” he later said, referring to Ika Eden’s refusal to give them food and water.

“The position of the state is these lives mattered.”

Ika Eden’s beliefs, no matter how strongly held, do not change that, Whiting said.

“She knowingly let them bake in that car. She did so so she could save herself, so she could enter light body.”

The prosecutor was incorrect in referring to her personal truths, Ika Eden said.

“I say they are not my truths. They are the truths of all the earth, whether or not they know them to be. These are not beliefs. They are cosmic truths.”

She said she knew she had taken a risk by testifying in her own defense and began drawing comparisons to the Old Testament prophet Daniel, who had been cast into a pit of lions due to the machinations of those who were jealous of him. She also spoke of Daniel’s three friends, who were cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the ruler Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. (According to the Bible, Daniel was not torn to pieces; an angel sealed the lions’ mouths. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked about in the flames unscathed; Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth figure “like the son of God” walking with them and hastily freed them.)

“I realized I was throwing myself into the lion’s den,” Ika Eden said.

Despite knowing her testimony would be damaging, she was bound by cosmic truths, she said.

Before Whiting objected because there was not prior testimony or evidence to support her bringing it up, Ika Eden told the jury that Hannah and Makayla on a cosmic level were “Devil Cain,” a male spirit, and “Satan Abel,” a female spirit.

“Evidence is not only what you see and what you hear,” she said. “You cannot see the wind, but you feel it. You cannot see the earth’s rotation.” Without mirrors, no one would know the color of their own eyes, she also said. “Evidence is not all about what you see and what you hear. It is also a knowing.”

She asked the jurors to remember their eyes when coming to the verdict, and that it is possible to know things without seeing them.

“I did not consciously disregard the risk. I was following cosmic truth,” Ika Eden said.

Jurors needed to consider the evidence from this plane, and whether it proves guilt, Whiting rebutted.

He brought up Ika Eden’s Tuesday testimony and what she said when directly asked if she had wanted Hannah and Makayla to die.

The defendant gave a lengthy response, including the statement that she had wanted them to reap what they sowed.

“Any answer longer than one syllable is a bad look. ‘No’ is a single syllable,” Whiting said.

Ika Eden faces 16 to 48 years in prison for each count of fatal abuse when she is sentenced July 28.

“I will never be able to erase the image in my mind of those two little girls — beautiful and innocent — happily sharing a meal as sisters at McDonald’s,” said Assistant District Attorney Rob Zentner, who prosecuted the case with Whiting.

“This is especially true when contrasting the photos of them the day their little bodies were recovered … These girls were systematically broken and ultimately killed by these five codefendants. A measure of justice will exist after July 28, by which time all five codefendants will be deservedly serving prison sentences.”

Zentner thanked the jury, as well as advisory witness, San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dan Covault, the latter “for his endless and devoted service to Hannah Marshall and Makayla Roberts.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP or reach out to her at katharhynnh@montrosepress.com.

Montrose Daily Press | June 23, 2021
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