More than three years after her arrest, Ika Eden will stand trial for the deaths of younger sisters Hannah Marshall and Makayla Roberts, whose partially mummified remains were found in a trash-filled car parked on a Norwood farm in 2017.
The children were staying on the farm with an end-time religious group, whose leader ordered them to confine them to the vehicle in the summer heat; they were denied regular meals.
Pathologists suspect that starvation, dehydration and heat exhaustion killed the girls, but could not determine for sure due to the condition of their bodies.
Eden was among the adults on the property to be charged with two counts of child abuse resulting in death; however, she was initially found legally incapable of standing trial.
That changed on February 4, when Montrose District Judge Keri Yoder issued an order agreeing with prosecutors that Eden had been restored to her legal competence.
Yoder also granted a defense request for a change of venue, arguing that extensive media coverage of the case justified moving the trial out of the 7th Judicial District.
As other trials and proceedings in the case took place in the 7th Judicial District, the jury panel was also emptied of those who could hear the case impartially. Yoder moved the trial to Mesa County, whose population constitutes a larger pool of potential jurors.
Eden’s trial is scheduled to begin on June 14.
A Gunnison jury previously convicted cult leader Madani Ceus of child abuse resulting in death. Jurors acquitted her of first degree murder. Ceus, who has since appealed, was sentenced to 64 years in prison.
Nashika Bramble, the girls’ mother, was convicted by a Montrose jury of first degree murder and later sentenced to life in prison. She is attractive.
Ashford Archer, a member of the group, was also tried in Montrose. He was convicted of fatal child abuse and helping to cover up a crime. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and is appealing.
Norwood farm owner Frederick “Alec” Blair pleaded guilty as an accomplice to helping Archer cover the vehicle in which the children died with a tarp. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Hannah, 8, and Makayla, 10, came to Colorado in 2017, with their mother, Bramble, who had joined Ceus’ cult.
The group met Blair at a Grand Junction truck stop; according to testimony and court records, Blair was captivated by Ceus and others, who viewed him as an archangel.
Blair, who invited the group to live on his farm, knew Ceus as âYahweh,â the Hebrew name for God. He himself would eventually assume the title of “Ra” after the Egyptian sun god, displacing another man who held that title and who left the Norwood property before the girls died.
In his testimony, he detailed Ceus’ controlling behavior. Blair said he had been manipulated into believing that Ceus could “reap” his soul if he didn’t obey him. When ordered to let his beloved dog starve to death, he followed the instructions – although friends ultimately saved the dog.
However, they were unaware that the two girls were on the property and had been ordered to go in their mother’s car.
Ceus ordered one girl, then the other, to get into the vehicle, saying they had been unclean in past lives, according to reports. (Upon sentencing, Ceus denied being a cult leader or deliberately harming children; Yoder, who presided over the hearing, said Ceus set the wheels in motion and did nothing to stop the death of the children, which she likened to torture.)
After Hannah and Makayla were ordered to stay in the car, Ceus – who did all the cooking – decreed that they couldn’t be fed anything she had prepared. Blair and Bramble visited a Telluride pantry in July; prosecutors called the meal Makayla and Hannah’s “last supper” and said the children were subsequently denied contact.
During the summer of 2017, cult members traveled to another part of Blair’s property to prepare for an apocalyptic event announced by Archer and possibly related to the eclipse that year. As part of the preparations, they burned or otherwise destroyed personal belongings such as phones and electronics.
At one point that summer, Blair discovered the girls’ bodies in the vehicle and helped Archer tag the car.
In September 2017, Blair’s alarmed father and a friend of his visited the property to verify him. They found him gaunt, emaciated, dressed in weird shabby robes, and behaving strangely. Blair then revealed the car and its terrible secret to his father, who called the authorities.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is Associate Editor and Senior Editor of the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.