Two Germantown women who called themselves “Demon Assassins” will face murder charges after a botched exorcism in January left two toddlers dead.
A grand jury on Thursday indicted Zakieya Avery, 28, and her roommate Monifa Sanford, 21, on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Ramon Korionoff said in an email.
The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment further on the case.
Attorneys for Sanford and Avery could not be reached for comment Thursday.
On Jan. 17, police responding to a 911 call found Avery’s children, Norell Harris, 1, and Zyana Harris, 2, stabbed to death in the master bedroom of her Germantown townhouse. Avery’s two other children suffered serious stab wounds but survived. One of them described to police seeing his younger brother being killed.
The Gazette is withholding the names of the surviving children because they are minors.
The women said they belonged to a group called the “Demon Assassins.” Avery was the commander and Sanford was the sergeant. They claimed they had performed exorcisms in the past. There were two other members of the group, but police said they weren’t involved in the slayings.
Avery and Sanford told police they were trying to “free” the children of a demon, which “jumped” from child to child and turned their eyes black, the women claimed. They told police they resorted to stabbing after other methods failed to expel the malignant spirit.
Sanford suffered minor stab wounds in the ordeal.
Days after their arrest in late January, a judge granted Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy’s request that the women immediately undergo psychiatric testing at a maximum security hospital to determine whether they were competent to stand trial.
McCarthy said the request was based on the things the women were saying to investigators, police observations and Avery’s psychological history, which included an involuntary evaluation.
Under Maryland law, incompetency to stand trial means a person is unable to understand the nature of the court proceeding and is unable to assist in his or her defense. A psychologist or licensed psychologist makes the assessment.
Proceedings stop until the defendant is found competent, according to Maryland code.
It was unclear Thursday whether the women were deemed competent to stand trial.
Competency to stand trial is not the same thing as a plea of insanity. The issue of whether the women were criminally responsible - Maryland’s version of the insanity plea - could still be raised.