Haitian cult leader wins appeal over girls' deaths

The Daily Sentinel, Colorado/June 28, 2024

By Charles Ashby

The Haitian leader of a doomsday cult whose members were convicted in the deaths of two young sisters in San Miguel County in 2017 either won herself a new trial or a lighter sentence.

Madani Ceus had been convicted on two counts of felony child abuse resulting in the deaths of 8-year-old Hannah Marshall and her 10-year-old sister, Makayla Roberts.

On the orders of Ceus, a self-described spiritual leader of the small cult that was living on a farm in the county, the mother of the two young girls, Nashika Leonie Bramble, was told to place and lock her daughters into a vehicle because Ceus had deemed them “unclean,” according to court records.

After Ceus discovered that Bramble, now 43, was bringing them food and water, she ordered her to stop despite cries for help from the children. Ceus then ordered other cult members to place a tarp over the vehicle and tape it up.

The girls’ bodies were eventually found some time later “basically mummified and partly skeletonized,” those court records show.

After a multi-week trial, Ceus was convicted and sentenced to 64 years in prison. Unlike Bramble, Ceus was acquitted of two counts of first-degree murder.

But a three-judge panel overturned Ceus’ conviction Thursday, saying that District Judge Keri A. Yoder failed to properly instruct the jury that it needed to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the child abuse resulted in death, a finding needed to elevate child abuse from a misdemeanor to a felony.

As a result, prosecutors can retry Ceus for felony child abuse or ask Yoder to enter a judgment for misdemeanor child abuse, a ruling that would greatly reduce her sentence.

“Ceus contends that the district court reversibly erred by failing to completely instruct the jury on child abuse resulting in death,” Judge Stephanie Dunn wrote in the ruling, which was joined by Judges David Yun and Pax Moultrie.

“Though Ceus offers a variety of arguments in support of this contention, we needn’t consider each one because we agree that the district court did not give the jury a special interrogatory asking it to find beyond a reasonable doubt whether the child abuse resulted in the children’s death,” she added. “Absent that finding, the court erred by entering judgment for class 2 felony abuse.”

Ceus, 44, currently is being held in the La Vista Correctional Facility.

Bramble, who was given a life sentence, is serving her time in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility.

Another cult member convicted in part of the crime, Ika Eden, was sentenced to 96 years in 2021 on two counts of child abuse knowingly or recklessly causing the death of the two girls.

Eden, a 60-year-old native of Jamaica, was sentenced on two counts of child abuse, knowingly or recklessly causing death, but only is to serve 48 years in prison because her sentences were ordered to be served consecutively.

She is being held in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility along with Bramble, and isn’t eligible for parole until 2064.

A fourth defendant in the case, Ashford Archer, also a Haiti native, was sentenced to 48 years on two counts of child abuse resulting in death. Both sentences are to be served concurrently, leaving him with 24 years. As a result, the 57-year-old is first eligible for parole in November 2027. He is serving his sentence at the Fremont Correctional Facility.

And finally, a fifth defendant, Frederick “Alec” Blair, who owned the farm and had invited the others to live there, accepted a plea deal in 2018. He was sentenced to 12 years in exchange for his testimony against the others.

The 28-year-old Blair was paroled in 2022 and no longer resides in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

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