• Ceus, alleged central actor, held on $500K
• ‘Strong possibility’ Yah could face first-degree murder
• 2 surviving children in protective custody
Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story. Read past stories and look for updates on montrosepress.com
Two young girls found dead Sept. 8 on a Norwood-area farm died from the alleged actions of five people, including members of a reportedly loose-knit traveling group, according to statements made in court Tuesday.
Two other children found with the defendants were taken into custody by the Department of Human Services, District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller said.
He painted defendants Madani Ceus and Nathan Yah as being most culpable in the deaths of the two girls. Ceus, 37; Yah, 50; Frederick Blair, 23; Ika Eden, 53, and Nashika Bramble, 36, all are suspected of felony child abuse resulting in death.
The girls were said to have been between the ages of 7 and 10. They had been dead an estimated two weeks when San Miguel County deputies, acting on a tip, searched the farmland and found them. Their identities and probable causes of death were pending as of last report.
“We believe the facts in this may well demonstrate first-degree murder, because of the position of trust and ages of the children,” Hotsenpiller said in reference to Yah, in asking for his bail to be set at $500,000.
The final charging decision has not been made, Hotsenpiller said. He indicated he anticipates a single complaint encompassing all defendants.
For Yah, a first-degree murder charge is a “strong possibility,” based on the available facts, Hotsenpiller said.
The facts further point to Ceus having played a “central role” in the case, the district attorney said later, asking her bond to be set at $750,000.
“Essentially, this is a class-1 felony. We anticipate in this case a class-1 felony charge, which means she might not even be entitled to bond,” Hotsenpiller said.
Ceus and Yah have no ties to the area, nowhere to live if released, and no visible means of support, he said.
At least four of the defendants had been traveling together for up to three years, he said, in demonstrating their lack of roots. It was unclear whether Hotsenpiller was including Blair, whom jail records listed as being from Norwood, and who has a post office box in Telluride, according to online San Miguel County property records linked to his name.
Investigators hit an unexpected stumbling block when attempting to run Yah’s prints — they could not locate a record of his fingerprints ever having been taken, and are having to take additional steps to confirm his name, Hotsenpiller said.
Investigators encountered a similar problem with respect to Ceus, he said. (The Colorado Bureau of Investigation lists as aliases for her the names Yahweh X, Ama X, Michilaja X and Mitch La Hay Ceus.)
Yah’s appointed defense counsel, Scott Reisch, said on Tuesday bail should be consistent with the amount previously set for Bramble — $125,000. Bramble was arrested as a fugitive from justice when she turned herself in Sept. 9 in Grand Junction. The others were arrested Sept. 8, the day the bodies were discovered, and their bail was not set at that time.
Yah’s bail should be no more than that of a similarly situated defendant, as well as in a reasonable amount sufficient to ensure public safety, Reisch said.
Senior Judge John Robert Lowenbach of Greeley set Yah’s bond at $250,000, not the half-million Hotsenpiller had requested.
Eden’s case was called next; her bond was set at $125,000 after Lowenbach asked if the circumstances were different than those surrounding Yah, whose bail he’d just set at a quarter-million dollars.
“It is, Your Honor,” Hotsenpiller replied.
Public defender Kori Zapletal said though she lacked information to make a full bond argument, she would not oppose $125,000 for Ceus, which would be consistent with Bramble and Eden’s bond amounts.
At that point, Hotsenpiller announced he was seeking $750,000 — the highest of any defendant, because of Ceus’ alleged central involvement in the deaths.
Zapletal said Ceus’ arrest charge was not a class-1 felony, and the most recent case in the 7th Judicial District involving fatal child abuse brought a bond of $150,000.
“She appears, by the affidavit, to be the central moving force in this case,” Lowenbach said, setting Ceus’ bail at $500,000.
Bramble’s bond was left at the $125,000 set at the time of her arrest. Her appointed counsel, Harvey Palefsky, indicated he would file a motion to halt testing of evidence until a defense investigator could view it in its unadulterated state.
Blair consented to for now remain jailed without bail after his appointed attorney, Kristen Hindman, explained she’d just been appointed to the case and had no information about it on which to base a bail argument. Blair gave his consent even after it was explained the court could not hold a bond hearing for him before October.
The other defense attorneys also indicated they lacked information necessary to make an appropriate bond argument; arrests affidavits were ordered unsealed for the defense only, at this point.
Hotsenpiller sought and was granted a protection order barring the defendants from contacting the two surviving children, who are 8 and 4 years old, and who appear connected to Ceus.
The protection order also prohibits the defendants from being in contact with anyone under 18.
Ceus would be allowed contact with the two named children only as ordered by a different court in a dependency and neglect case.
The San Miguel County court’s docket showed a juvenile petition related to “temporary custody,” and listed Ceus and Yah as parties.
Ceus returns to court Oct. 10. All other defendants were set for Oct. 3.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter at @kathMDP.