New details in exorcism killing case

Last updated 09:21 22/01/2014

Mother charged over 'exorcism' deaths

TODDLERS KILLED: Zakieya Avery, 28, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
VICTIMS: Norell Harris, a 1-year-old boy, and Zyana Harris, a 2-year-old girl, were found dead.

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Two women who police say killed two children while performing what they thought was an exorcism will remain held without bond and have psychiatric evaluations to determine if they are competent to stand trial, a judge says.

The women, 28-year-old Zakieya Latrice Avery and 21-year-old Monifa Denise Sanford appeared in court on Tuesday (local time).

They have told investigators that they believed evil spirits moved successively between the bodies of the children and that an exorcism was needed to drive the demons out, said Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy, releasing new details. The women also reported seeing the eyes of each of the children blackening and after the intended exorcism took a shower, cleaned up the scene and "prepared the children to see God", he said.

The women identified themselves as members of a group called "Demon Assassins", and police are looking to interview other people who might be part of the same organisation.

Avery and Sanford face charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of two of Avery's children, ages 1 and 2. Two older siblings were also found injured with stab wounds and might have died had a neighbour not called emergency services, police said.

Police who responded to Avery's home in Germantown, where she lived with the four children and Sanford, found the two children's bodies in the master bedroom.

The father of the children does not live in the area, police said.

The women face a possible life sentence if convicted, but a screening will first determine if they're mentally competent to stand trial.

Edward Leyden, a lawyer for Sanford, told reporters after the hearing that "everyone who is involved in this case is in deep pain".

"It obviously has details that are salacious and we just ask folks to give an opportunity for all of us to get a handle on just what happened here," Leyden said of the case, "so that when the time comes to present this to a judge and a jury, all of the facts are here,"

A lawyer for Avery did not return a call seeking comment.

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- AP

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