Ashford Nathaniel Archer argued in the state’s second highest court that there was insufficient evidence that he committed child abuse resulting in death, stemming from the murder of two girls by his religious group in 2017 in San Miguel County.
The Court of Appeal disagreed last week, finding Archer was aware of the group’s overall decisions that led to the victims being left in a car with no food or water, where they likely starved to death and dehydration in what prosecutors said was torture.
“Archer did not simply fail to intervene; on the contrary, he engaged in affirmative acts of mistreatment,” Judge Matthew D. Grove wrote in the July 7 opinion.
Hannah Marshall, 8, and Makayla Roberts, 10, were found dead and decomposing in a vehicle on Frederick “Alec” Blair’s Norwood Farm. A medical examiner was unable to conclusively state the cause of death due to the condition of the girls’ bodies, but evidence suggests long-term malnutrition towards the end of their lives.
Archer was part of a traveling group of five adults and four children. Archer and his wife, Madani Ceus, were the biological parents of two of the children, while band member Nashika Bramble was the mother of the victims.
Ceus was the spiritual leader of the group. During Ceus’s trial, prosecutors said Ceus “made herself to be God.”
As reported by the Montrose Daily Press, the victims had a “last supper” on July 20, 2017. Ceus believed Makayla had not worked hard enough on her “past life” and was unclean. The consequence was to banish the girls in a vehicle to an isolated section of the farm with no food or water.
After Blair’s friends and family became concerned about his behavior due to his involvement with the religious group, Blair’s father visited the farm on September 8. Blair told her father about the dead children, prompting a call to the police.
Prosecutors charged all of the adults who participated in the group.
“Makayla and Hannah were tortured as they died of thirst”, Chief Assistant District Attorney Seth Ryan told jurors. “That’s what Mrs. Ceus did, along with the rest of the group on this property. They tortured them.
A jury found Archer guilty of two counts of child abuse resulting in death and one count of aiding and abetting a felony. Archer appealed his convictions, arguing that the prosecution presented insufficient evidence of child abuse. Colorado law defines the offense as causing injury or allowing a child to be placed in a life-threatening situation, as well as engaging in a pattern of conduct that results in malnutrition or abuse.
A three-judge Court of Appeal panel was unconvinced, noting evidence that Archer was part of collective decision-making regarding the girls. Archer’s actions led to the “physical perimeter” around the vehicle preventing anyone from helping the victims, and Archer helped Blair cover up the bodies once they learned the girls were dead, Grove explained in the ‘notice.
“There was sufficient evidence that Archer acted knowingly or recklessly because, although he knew that the victims were confined in a car during the summer and then left there without food or water, he did nothing for them. help, and in fact he consciously ignored the substantial risk that they would die as a result of abandonment,” Grove wrote. “As a result, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support Archer’s convictions for child abuse resulting in death.”
In reaching its decision, the panel found that Archer’s “active participation in the decision-making process” was sufficient reason to uphold his conviction, even though he had not physically abused the victims.
The appeals judges also dismissed Archer’s other allegations of inappropriate scientific testimony and out-of-court statements by Ceus.
Archer is serving a 24-year prison sentence. Ceus received a 64-year sentence and Bramble, the children’s mother, is serving a life sentence. Blair was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the Montrose Daily Press reported.
The case is People c. Archer.