Ashford Archer, previously convicted of child abuse resulting in the deaths of two young girls, was on Tuesday sentenced to 24 years in prison - less than the two, 35-year terms, "one for Hannah, one for Makayla," prosecutors sought.
Hannah Marshall and her sister, Makayla Roberts, were members of the same religious group as Archer, and were staying on a Norwood farm with him and others in 2017.
The group's reported leader, Madani Ceus, allegedly ordered first one girl, then the other, to be held in a car on the property because they were unclean and impeding the group's spiritual journey. The children were eventually left without food or water as the adults prepared for an event associated with the summer eclipse, prosecutors said.
The sisters died in the car, possibly of starvation and thirst, deaths Chief Deputy District Attorney Seth Ryan on Tuesday likened to "torture," in calling for 35 years to be imposed for each of the two counts of child abuse resulting in death that a jury earlier convicted Archer of committing.
Ryan said Archer knew the girls were without food and water in the car, yet did nothing to help them. He also helped Blair conceal the car where Hannah and Makayla were found on Sept. 8, 2017.
Archer's attorneys sought a sentence more in line with the 12 year cap codefendant Frederick Blair is to receive in light of his plea as an accessory. They said the duty the circumstances imposed on Archer was vague and he did not have a strong relationship to the girls.
Archer, who will appeal, gave a lengthy statement in which he said harming others is far from his mind and that "lies" and newspaper "propaganda" had portrayed him falsely in a case that was "a little motivated by race."
"It's very shocking to conceive of being in a position like this. The charges against me is beyond my wildest dreams and any behavior I consider even in my faults. Hurting someone is beyond me," Archer said.
"I cannot fathom doing such a thing."
Blair, who owned the farm where the children died, faces sentencing at a later date.
Ceus, who is charged with murder, is being evaluated for legal competency.
Nashika Bramble, the children's mother, is also charged with murder. Her trial is set to begin July 8 in Montrose.
A fifth defendant, Ika Eden, was found incompetent to proceed. She had been charged with child abuse.
Check back for complete story, or read Wednesday's Montrose Daily Press.