‘Cult’ leader Ceus acquitted of murder, convicted of fatal abuse in deaths of sisters in Norwood

Madani Ceus on Friday, wearing a face mask in accordance with San Miguel County COVID-19 guidelines.

In an impassioned statement to the court Friday, Madani Ceus denied having brought harm to two young sisters, Makayla Roberts and Hannah Marshall, who were found dead inside a vehicle parked on a Norwood farm in 2017.

A Gunnison jury previously convicted Ceus of two counts of child abuse resulting in death; she was acquitted of murder charges. Friday, she was sentenced to 32 years for each count, which are to be served consecutively.

Ceus’ attorneys said she was targeted from the start because of her race. They argued that investigators and prosecutors approached the case with tunnel vision by affixing responsibility to a Black woman, while treating a white codefendant, farm owner Frederick “Alec” Blair, very differently, despite his criminal history and alleged penchant for lying.

Ceus also pinned the blame for the girls’ deaths on their mother, Nashika Bramble, who is appealing two life terms for first-degree murder.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Seth Ryan said Ceus had through her actions subjected Hannah and Makayla to “torture.”

According to testimony, Ceus led a small band of fellow believers to Colorado, where they met Blair at a Grand Junction truck stop. Blair was attracted to the group’s spiritual beliefs and invited them onto his Norwood property, where members began preparing for the end of days as foretold by Ceus and her husband, Ashford Archer. (Archer is now in prison for fatal child abuse and is appealing his conviction.)

During the summer of 2017, both Makayla, 10, and Hannah, 8, were ordered to stay in their mother’s car because Ceus considered them unclean, and an impediment to others’ spirituality. Per testimony, she decreed they could not be fed anything she had prepared from the group’s stores of food. Blair and Bramble obtained some things for the girls from a Telluride food pantry, but the sisters were left behind in the car while the rest of the group went to a different part of the property to prepare for the end times.

Pathologists said the children likely succumbed to starvation, dehydration and heat.

The girls’ bodies were reported to authorities when Blair’s father visited the property in September, 2017.

Ceus, who is appealing her conviction, on Friday denied being a leader, although prosecutors reiterated trial testimony that she thought of herself as Yahweh — God — and also said she was a manipulator.

Ceus also alleged to the courts that she had confronted Bramble about the girls possibly being molested. She further alleged Bramble had admitted knowing they were being abused.

In handing down the sentence later, District Judge Keri Yoder said although no one should be treated differently because of skin color, or any other reason, reams of evidence demonstrated Ceus’ culpability in the deaths, as well as “callousness.”

“I don’t know if you have regret or remorse. I really haven’t heard that,” Yoder said. “I’ve heard self-pity and blame.”

First posted at 1:50 p.m. Friday, June 19.

For the full story, see Saturday’s Montrose Daily Press in print or online at montrosepress.com.

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