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.