Prosecutors: Woman pleads guilty in 2 kids' exorcism deaths

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 2:31 PM

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — One of two women charged with killing two children while performing what they thought was an exorcism last year pleaded guilty to all the charges against her on Friday, but she won't be serving prison time.

Monifa Sanford, 22, of Germantown, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder under a plea agreement with prosecutors in Montgomery County District Court, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Under the agreement, approved by Judge Cheryl McCally, Sanford was found not criminally responsible and will be committed to a psychiatric hospital for an undetermined amount of time.

Sanford's attorney, David Felsen, said after Friday's court hearing that his client has been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder and was not able to understand the criminality of her conduct.

"This case represents a horrific descent into the horrors of mental illness," he said. "She honestly believed she was doing God's work. Obviously she was not."

On Jan. 17 last year, prosecutors say Sanford and Zakieya Avery, the mother of the two children killed, told investigators that they believed evil spirits moved successively between the bodies of the children, ages 1 and 2, and that an exorcism was needed to drive the demons out.

The women also reported seeing the eyes of each of the children blackening and after the intended exorcism took a shower, cleaned up the scene and "prepared the children to see God," Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said at the time.

The children's two older siblings, a 5-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy, were also found injured with stab wounds. Police say they also might have died had a neighbor not called police.

Avery is the mother of all four children. Her case is still pending.