Sentence of Norwood cult member to stand

The Daily Sentinel, Colorado/July 8, 2022

By Charles Ashby

A Norwood man who was part of a doomsday cult that led to the deaths of two young girls won’t see his sentenced reduced, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously ruled that even though Ashford Archer didn’t physically mistreat 8-year-old Hannah Marshall or 10-year-old Makayla Roberts, his 2019 conviction for child abuse resulting in death is supported by sufficient evidence and should stand.

Archer was one of five people who have been convicted in relation to the deaths of the two girls, who all were living in tents and cars on land near Norwood as members of a religious cult awaiting the apocalypse.

The group’s spiritual leader, Madani Ceus, ordered the girls to be kept in a car without food or water for days as they waited for the apocalypse in advance of a 2017 solar eclipse, according to court documents.

Ceus, a native of Haiti and a self-styled religious leader, was convicted in 2020 by a Telluride jury and sentenced to 64 years in prison.

According to court testimony at the time, Ceus had determined that the two girls were “unclean” and needed to be sequestered from the rest of the cult, whose members believed she was a “powerful witch.”

Another cult member, Ika Eden, was sentenced to 96 years last year on two counts of child abuse knowingly or recklessly causing the death of the two girls. She was known as the girls’ caregiver, but ordered by Ceus to stop caring for the children, according to court testimony.

The girls’ mother, however, received the stiffest sentence. Nashika Bramble, now 41, was convicted on two murder counts in 2019, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

A fifth defendant in the case, Frederick “Alec” Blair, accepted a plea deal in 2018, and sentenced to 12 years.

Blair, who later testified against the cult members, had met the cult at a gas station east of Grand Junction in the summer of 2017, and offered to let them live on 20 acres of land he owned near Norwood, where he was attempting to grow vegetables and marijuana, Appeals Judge Matthew Grove wrote in the Thursday ruling, which was joined by Judges David Yun and Daniel Taubman.

“When Archer and the others met Blair, their group was made up of five adults and four children traveling in two vehicles,” Grove wrote. “Co-defendant Madani Ceus was the group’s spiritual leaders; she and Archer were the biological parents of two of the children.

The other two children, the victims, were daughters of co-defendant Nashika Bramble and another member.”

The surviving children were taken into protective custody.

According to the ruling, Ceus, Archer and a third cult member were part of the group’s leadership. That third member, Cory Sutherland, who was Eden’s son, had become “extremely erratic” and was expelled from the group before the deaths occurred.

In his appeal, Archer’s court-appointed attorneys tried to argue that the evidence convicting him was insufficient, that the San Miguel County district court erroneously admitted unreliable scientific evidence, and that it allowed hearsay statements from Ceus.

The appellate court rejected all three.

“Archer’s actions led to Ceus’ decree that the girls should be abandoned in the car,” Grove wrote, citing testimony from Blair. “Someone drew a ‘physical perimeter’ around the vehicle that no one was allowed to enter, and the group then moved to another part of the property, leaving the victims to die.”

Archer, also a Haiti native, was sentenced to 48 years on both counts, but it is to be served concurrently, leaving him with 24 years. As a result, he is eligible for parole in April 2028. Currently, Archer is serving his sentence at the Fremont Correctional Facility.

Ceus, 42, was sentenced to 64 years in the summer of 2020. She is being held in the La Vista Correctional Facility, and isn’t eligible for parole until 2048.

Eden, a 58-year-old native of Jamaica is only to serve 48 years of her 96-year sentence in prison because her sentences are to be served consecutively.

The girls’ mother, Bramble, was sentenced to life in 2019, and his serving her time in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility along with Eden, who isn’t eligible for parole until 2048.

Blair, 28, was eligible for parole in April, but still is being held in the Rifle Correctional Facility. His mandatory release date is in April 2028.

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