Reinforcing earlier testimony, trial witnesses said Thursday that defendant Ika Eden was the primary caregiver for two young girls who died in Norwood nearly four years ago.
Ika Eden, described by her daughter as a passionate believer in the end times message of sect leader Madani Ceus, was almost always in charge of sisters Makayla Roberts and Hannah Marshall, a constant stream of people who came into contact with the group. testified.
But his observed interactions with the girls were strongly at odds with the charges that brought witnesses to a Grand Junction courtroom: two counts of fatal child abuse, one each, for 8-year-old Hannah. and Makayla, 10 years old.
The children died on the Norwood property of the convert to the sect, Frederick “Alec” Blair. As sweltering heat scorched the air outside the courthouse, jurors heard of another scorching summer, 2017, when the girls died of hunger, thirst and likely overheating, in the car in which Ceus had banned them for perceived “impurities”.
Ika Eden – who uses both names and is representing herself after being restored to legal jurisdiction – is the latest of five people to be prosecuted over the deaths.
But before she and other cult members met Blair at a Grand Junction truck stop in May 2017, and before moving to his farm, there was North Carolina.
Ika Eden had frantically sold her belongings and packed her children at Ceus’ request to move there, the accused’s daughter, Hannah Joy Sutherland, testified. Prior to this move, her mother had been a practicing observer and evangelizer of the Ceus movement – called The Family – and was in frequent telephone contact with her, as well as cult member Ashford Archer.
“She was a believer. She was very passionate about what they preached, ”Sutherland said.
So when Ceus told Ika Eden to get off to North Carolina, she took action, according to the testimony: she was “a little scared, panicked” as she got ready. Preparations included destruction of identification documents; Ika Eden and others would change their names to pseudonyms, Sutherland’s testimony said. “The world was coming to an end and we had to go,” she said.
Ika Eden, Sutherland and one of her brothers moved into an apartment in North Carolina with Ceus, her two young children, Archer and Nashika Bramble, who had two little daughters – Makayla and Hannah – along with a few others.
When they arrived, everyone had to shave their heads and burn their clothes because they “had evil spirits on them,” Sutherland said. They changed into dresses.
The group members spent their days meditating, singing and worshiping. “We didn’t have to stay, but if we left we wouldn’t be allowed to go back,” she said.
Those who did leave would go through trials and tribulations on the “red moon date,” like the rest of the corrupt world, the group was told. If they stayed, they would “disappear” in a higher spiritual form and be spared.
Although Sutherland doubted it and reminded his mother of Matthew 24:36 (“But from this day and this hour no man knows, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”), Ika Eden “did not want ‘hear’, the witness testified.
Sutherland said the cult members subsisted on a purifying diet of coconuts, dates, almonds and water, which at first were in sufficient quantity. Over time, food was reduced and Sutherland, along with Ika Eden and others, ate less so the children could have more.
“We had no more food. You can’t go out, so we just drank water after that, ”Sutherland said.
But another member of the group left and she told Sutherland’s father where Sutherland was. The man and one of Sutherland’s brothers arrived, knocking on the door; became “a little hysterical” when they saw her condition and dragged her out of the apartment because of her mother’s protests.
During a phone call a few months later, Ika Eden attempted to persuade Sutherland to join the group on his travels; She said no. “I felt like the hold they had over my mother – I couldn’t persuade her otherwise,” the witness said.
Sutherland said she had spoken to her mother since the arrests in 2017: “She was heartbroken. I think she cried. She told me it would be the last time we would speak.
During a brief cross-examination, Ika Eden asked if the name changes were made with intent to deceive and if her daughter remembered that according to the Bible, a good name is better than gold. . (This was an apparent reference to Proverbs 22, which says, “A good name should be chosen over great riches, and loving favor over silver and gold.”) The witness said said there was no intention to cheat, and that she did. remember the Scripture.
Ika Eden also got a “yes” from Sutherland when she asked, “Is it possible that judgment will ensue even if it takes longer? “
When it comes to Ika Eden’s interactions with the children in the apartment, she was “motherly” to them, Sutherland said during the redirect.
‘They were beautiful’Other witnesses said that Ika Eden seemed to adore and take care of children. Although by the time the cult appeared in Norwood, neither Blair nor another man who worked on the property knew about Hannah, Thursday’s witnesses said they saw her with Ika Eden, as well as the girls. of Makayla and Ceus.
Illinois Minister Laura Tanner said she met the group and knew Ika Eden as Sandalphon; she also used the pseudonym Kara Sandalphon.
Ika Eden looked after the four children “whenever I saw them,” Tanner said. “… She seemed very educated. Very kind. Very dedicated.
The jurors were shown a photo of a parking lot and an ordinary tree. Tanner said the original photo was from a cell phone and there appeared to be a reflection in the tree. This, she said, Ika Eden showed to Makayla and told her that spirits or angels were watching over them.
But when she asked who the children belonged to, Tanner learned that Ceus – also known as “Ama” – was the mother of all children. When Tanner asked Ika Eden for information about her own family, the woman said they called her “crazy”.
“She gave it all up to follow this,” Tanner said.
Tanner kept in touch with the group through phone calls – for money, arranged through “Sandalphon” and amounting to about $ 1,200 in total. The reason for the money? “Food,” Tanner said.
As the theological discussions on the phone began to baffle her, Tanner felt less comfortable with Ceus, but, she said, “I never felt uncomfortable with him. ‘accused.”
The children were well cared for, especially since they lived on the road, Tanner said, attributing this to Ceus’ attention.
The last time Tanner saw the kids, Makayla didn’t want to leave – and Tanner didn’t want to either. They both cried. “She was very gentle, very obedient. Clever. Love it, ”Tanner said.
During cross-examination, Ika Eden asked Tanner about the Biblical Patriarch Abraham and if he had been told to “take all he had” and go. Tanner said yes, as well as whether she was aware of Moses and the prophet Elijah, or crying in the streets. Tanner again replied in the affirmative.
“No further questions,” said Ika Eden.
Tanner’s friend Lisa Bloome also said that Ika Eden is looking after Hannah, Makayla and the other two children.
Bloome also spoke about the beliefs of the group, saying that holiness and purity “are strongly imposed on us.” The focus on purity extended to food, as the group learned that genetically modified foods alter human DNA, Bloome said.
“The Lord will not recognize you if you have different DNA,” she said, recounting the group’s apparent belief.
Another teaching held that McDonald’s made “food from human parts,” Bloome said. Ika Eden didn’t seem to disagree with the teachings, she said.
The Ceus Cult was in Colorado in May 2017. Blair, who was taking a friend to Denver, met the group at a Grand Junction truck stop and quickly invited them to move into his Norwood property.
But Blair wasn’t the only person in Colorado to meet Ceus and the others. Peggy Murphy, a resident of the Whitewater area, testified that she met the members of the group when they asked for help replacing the tires on one of their vehicles.
Murphy’s husband gave them tires he had at home and invited them to have the tires fitted to the vehicle.
When they arrived, Ika Eden was the only one braving the wind and standing alongside Makayla, Hannah and Ceus’ eldest daughter as they played on a tricycle, Murphy said.
“I thought that as an educator, this is the kind of woman I want to hire. … I assumed it was his position to watch these kids, ”Murphy said.
As for the children: “They were beautiful.
Despite the cold, Ika Eden had to ask permission from “Ama” before she could accept a quilt to wrap her shoulders, the witness also said.
Four years later, Murphy seemed to be having trouble correctly identifying from photos some of the people she had met that day. During cross-examination, Ika Eden only asked if Murphy was sure she heard her name given as “Ika” and not “Kara” (Sandalphon).
San Miguel County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Covault was last at the helm on Thursday. His testimony was to continue today.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is Associate Editor-in-Chief and Senior Editor of Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP
Katharhynn Heidelberg is Associate Editor-in-Chief and Senior Editor of Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.