Group leader’s sentencing continued in Norwood deaths

Sisters Makayla Roberts and Hannah Marshall, who died on a Norwood farm in 2017.

Sentencing for Madani Ceus — the purported religious leader who was convicted of fatal child abuse in the deaths of sisters Makayla Roberts and Hannah Marshall — has been postponed.

Ceus was to be sentenced Friday in Telluride for her role in the girls’ 2017 deaths. Her case has been continued until April 22, when she is slated for a hearing to reset the matter.

It was not clear whether the coronavirus-19 pandemic played a role in the delay, but the disease prompted emergency declarations and a bevy of state- and local-level public health orders restricting movement and the numbers of people who can gather at a single location. Courts in the 7th Judicial District are largely closed to public access, with a few limited exceptions.

Ceus led a traveling religious group and in May of 2017, encountered Norwood resident Frederick “Alec” Blair at a Grand Junction truck stop. He invited her and the group to come live on his farm where, according to past testimony, the group began to prepare for a cataclysmic event. Eventually, Ceus deemed the two children “impure” and ordered them to remain in their mother’s car; per testimony, she also decreed they could not be fed from anything she had provided.

Hannah and Makayla died in the car at some point that summer. Blair and group member Ashford Archer then concealed the vehicle with a tarp.

The deaths were only revealed when Blair’s father visited the property that September to check on his son’s wellbeing, learned what had happened, and contacted authorities.

Pathologists were unable to say for certain how the children died, but said starvation, dehydration and over-heating were likely.

Ceus was charged with first-degree murder and fatal abuse; a Gunnison jury earlier this year convicted her of the abuse charges.

Nashika Bramble, the girls’ mother, was tried in Montrose and convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison; she is appealing.

A Montrose jury also convicted Archer of child abuse resulting in death and as an accessory to a crime. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and is appealing.

Blair pleaded guilty to an accessory count and testified against the others. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

A fifth member of the group who was charged with fatal child abuse, Ika Eden, has been deemed incompetent to stand trial.

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