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Mother to Undergo Psychiatric Evaluation, Held Without Bond in Toddlers' Death

The women told police they believed the children were possessed by demons and were trying to get rid of the evil spirits.

Montgomery County police charged Zakieya Latrice Avery (left) and Monifa Denise Sanford (right) in the killings of Avery's children. Photo Credit: MCPD
Montgomery County police charged Zakieya Latrice Avery (left) and Monifa Denise Sanford (right) in the killings of Avery's children. Photo Credit: MCPD

By Tiffany Arnold

(UPDATED 5 p.m.) A Montgomery County district judge ruled Tuesday that two Germantown women be held without bond after two toddlers were stabbed to death in what prosecutors described as an attempt to free the children of demons.

The judge granted Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy's request that Zakieya Latrice Avery, mother of the four children involved in the incident, immediately undergo psychiatric testing to see whether she is competent to stand trial. Police charged Avery with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. 

McCarthy said the request was based on statements made by Avery, observations from police and Avery’s psychological history that included an involuntary evaluation.

A judge is expected to hear the results of the tests in about a week.

The state's attorney's office is expected to submit a similar request for psychiatric testing of Monifa Denise Sanford, who is also being held on charges of attempted murder and first-degree murder. Sanford is expected to go before a judge on Friday.

According to McCarthy, Sanford reportedly said that she attempted suicide twice, but prosecutors were unable to verify the claims.

Avery and Sanford told police that they believed the children were possessed by demons and were trying to get rid of the evil spirits.

Police responded Friday to a 911 call and found Norell Harris, 1, and Zyana Harris, 2, dead in the master bedroom of the townhouse in the 19000 block of Cherry Bend Drive. Two other children—5-year-old Taniya Harris and 8-year-old Martello Harris—suffered serious stab wounds but are expected to survive, police said.

The women reportedly told police that the eyes of each of the children blackened as demons entered their bodies and that the demons entered the bodies of the children successively, jumping from the youngest to the oldest.

McCarthy described in graphic detail the method that was used to "free" the children from demons, a method that ended with stabbing.

Sanford was also stabbed on Friday, though it’s unclear whether she was stabbed by Avery or if her wounds were self-inflicted.

“Both defendants alleged that the demon leapt from the body of the last child into Mrs. Avery and then back to Sanford,” McCarthy said. “She was able to fight off that demon.”

McCarthy said that after that attack, the women showered, “then proceeded to clean up the crime scene, and prepare the children to see God.”

The oldest child reportedly described being stabbed and witnessing one of his siblings getting killed.

Montgomery County Police Capt. Marcus Jones credited the neighbor who called 911 Friday morning with saving the two children’s lives.

“Because if that call wouldn't [have] come in, we don't think those two children would get medical help in time,” Jones said.

Jones said that Sanford and Avery knew each other from a Germantown church, Exousia Ministries, where Avery was a part of a dance troupe.

Avery was also the leader of a group called "Demon Assassins," according to Jones, who said police had spoken to the pastor of the church about the group. While the pastor thought the name of the group was “eccentric,” he reportedly told police he didn’t have any reservations about it because there was no indication of violence or exorcisms.

“She [Avery] had already named the group while being part of the church,” Jones said. “Her job as a lover of Christ was that she was going to keep demons away from her. That was part of her and Sanford's goal.”

Jones said there were at least two other male members of the Demon Assassins, but he said that the men were not involved with the toddlers’ deaths.

“I don't think at this point it's a serious alarm that they are out to harm anyone else in our community,” Jones said.

Mark January 22, 2014 at 11:15 AM
Daughter told me that Monifa Sandford attended Severn River Middle with her.
Marty Warren January 22, 2014 at 02:20 PM
I know that the "Mentally Ill" have rights, but we have to do something to stop the mentally ill from murdering people. Almost every mass murder is done by the insane. What we should do is beyond me but we must do something.
Sharon January 22, 2014 at 05:21 PM
Kind of unsettling how blase' Jones seems to be regarding group, any group involving 'members' of his ministry called "Demon Assassins". Maybe it might be recommended to seek a 'voluntary' psychological evaluation on him as well! Hummm! I somehow get the 'Jim Jones' chills every time I read anything about this murder in Germantown or any horrific murder when 'the devil made me do it' becomes the defense for 'pure evil'.
Sharon January 22, 2014 at 05:35 PM
Correction: Sorry, I didn't mean Police Captain Marcus Jones was blase'. I was referring to pastor of that ministry.
Kelly J. Johnson January 24, 2014 at 11:31 AM
"While the pastor thought the name of the group was “eccentric,” he reportedly told police he didn’t have any reservations about it because there was no indication of violence or exorcisms." Really? "Assassins" doesn't indicate violence? These situations really make me question the limitlessness of religious tolerance in our society.
Marty Warren January 24, 2014 at 04:29 PM
Dear Kelly, I respectfully disagree. Christianity in general and Catholics in particular are constantly ridiculed while Islam is embraced by the Media
Bryan Harz January 28, 2014 at 02:18 PM
Hey Marty, Kelly never mentioned a particular religion, interesting you assumed Christianity. The reason Christianity is ridiculed is because it is the predominant religion in America, and Americans don't understand Islam enough to poke fun. Catholics are ridiculed because...you know, the whole priest pedophile thing. And by the way, killing in the name of ANY god should not be tolerated by ANY society.
Kelly J. Johnson January 28, 2014 at 03:06 PM
"[K]illing in the name of ANY god should not be tolerated by ANY society." That was my point. Religious leaders have a responsibility to lead the devotees of their religion to a way of living that does not harm others. That goes for the leader of ANY religion and, realistically, there have been leaders from all religions who have failed in this duty. I was only pointing out that we should not shy away from calling these irresponsible leaders (like the one quoted in this article) out on their failings for fear of being accused of religious intolerance.
Marty Warren January 28, 2014 at 04:41 PM
Bryan Harz said: Kelly never mentioned a particular religion, interesting you assumed Christianity. ======== Christianity is the only religion to perform Exorcism's. Catholics are ridiculed because...you know, the whole priest pedophile thing. ==== the pedophile preists should be the ones ridiculed not the religion. Knowing that several Arch Diocese went bankrupt from the law suits, and rightly so, means justice was served as best it could be. And by the way, killing in the name of ANY god should not be tolerated by ANY society. ========= Islamist Radicals are the only people of this day and age who murder because their religious beliefs say they must.
Bryan Harz January 29, 2014 at 09:10 AM
Marty, Christianity is NOT the only religion to perform exorcisms, specifically Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism...they just have different names for the same act. Pedophile priests get moved around and it is often times covered up by higher priests all the way up to the Vatican, and "several going bankrupt" is not enough justice for the victims of these horrific sex crimes. And please stop kidding yourself, radical islamists are far from the only people killing in the name of their god and religion. I don't believe any religion promotes violence or commands killing (including Islam), but the intolerance of the religious who think others MUST believe what they believe drives them to do unspeakable things.
Bryan Harz January 29, 2014 at 09:17 AM
BTW Marty, I do respect your opinion, but when you make bold assertions that are clearly incorrect, I feel the need to speak up and stop the spreading of misinformation.
Marty Warren January 29, 2014 at 02:13 PM
Dear Bryan Harz, I did not assume they were christians. The article has words in it like "Church, pastor and lover of Christ. You mistaken on this one. As far as the pedophile preists, there is nothing that can done to right the atrocities that were done but that doesn't mean we should do nothing. In the Quoran, like in the Old Testament of the Bible, it talks about "Murdering the Non-believers" the difference is, Christians don't do it, Islamic Radicals do. An old LIBERAL trick is to ignore Islamic Radicals and substitute Muslim in its place. I'm not talking about Muslims, I'm talking about Islamic Radicals. Big difference.
Bryan Harz January 29, 2014 at 04:13 PM
Marty, there is something to be done about pedophile priests, they should be removed from their position and provided help to work through their issue, or better yet not be forced to be celibate by their employer in the first place. Also there are radical Christians who bomb abortion clinics and mosques, so again, no it's not just Islamic radicals. I'm done with this debate, but you can have the last word. I will read it but not reply. Have a nice day.
Marty Warren January 29, 2014 at 04:32 PM
they should be removed from their position and provided help to work through their issue, ======== Pedophile preists are sent to a Christian jail/Mental hopspital, I have worked in one of theose places in Bethesda. Also there are radical Christians who bomb abortion clinics and mosques, so again, no it's not just Islamic radicals. ========== I "Binged" Abortion clinic bombing" and the most recent attack I could find was in 1984......http://www.pensapedia.com/wiki/Christmas_abortion_bombings.....I BINGED islamic terrorist bombing and the most recent I could find was in May.....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makhachkala.... You have a nice day also.

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