The morning Nashika Bramble was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the road up to Telluride was paved with sunlight filtering through golden aspens and cottonwoods. It was Oct. 1.
The incongruous horror of what had happened to Bramble’s daughters Makayla Roberts, 10, and Hannah Marshall, 8, two years ago on a farm near Norwood seemed a world away.
Authorities discovered the sisters’ mummified corpses in a trash-filled car on a former marijuana farm belonging to Norwood resident Alec Blair in September 2017. A post-mortem investigation showed the girls had been dead for at least several weeks before their remains were discovered — the alleged victims of a doomsday religious group to which their mother belonged.
According to court records, the group’s spiritual leader, Madani Ceus of Haiti, had allegedly declared the girls to by unclean spirits and banished them to the car with no food or water, as Bramble stood by and let them die.
In July, a Montrose jury found Bramble guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the role she played in her daughters’ deaths. The Class 1 felonies carried a state-mandated sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bramble, 38, sat in a chair pushed against the courtroom wall in Telluride. Dressed in a baggy orange-and-white-striped T-shirt and matching orange pants, with a thick leather belt around her waist, she rocked back and forth, and appeared to wipe away some tears, as she waited to receive her sentence. It was 9 a.m. Her court-appointed defense attorney Harvey Palefsky was running late. Around 9:07 a.m., Palefsky rushed in. Bramble rose to join him at a little table facing the judge’s bench, and the sentencing hearing for case number 17CR31, the People of the State of Colorado vs. Nashika Bramble, began.
District Judge Keri Yoder asked Bramble if she would like to make a statement. “No, your honor,” Bramble softly replied, after a long pause. Then it was Yoder’s turn to speak.
“It is incumbent upon me to say something to you, even though this is a mandatory sentence,” she began. “The community deserves it. Your daughters deserve it. Your conduct was aberrant. Your conduct was monstrous. There is just really no other way of putting it.”
“Demonic possession is what I call it,” Bramble interjected.
“Your two small children were left to die in what served as a dumpster to them, and as a coffin,” Yoder continued.
Bramble interrupted. “I didn’t put them in that situation.”
“I’m talking now,” Yoder said. “That’s what happened. They were treated no better than garbage. They were stripped of their identities, dehumanized. They were left to rot in a vehicle with no food or water. The buck stopped with you, Miss Bramble. You were their mother. They were helpless children; maybe even more helpless than most, given their background. … When they cried out to you, you did nothing. You just let them sit there, day after day.”
Bramble sat quietly as Yoder recounted more disturbing details of the story, including how Bramble saved herself by fleeing to Grand Junction after Ceus deemed her unclean.
“You have shown me you are no wallflower,” Yoder said. “You are not someone who is easily manipulated. That is clear. You have been manipulative throughout the course of these proceedings, and I see that.”
Yoder ultimately imposed but two consecutive life sentences on Bramble. “One for each of your daughters,” she said. “Without the possibility of parole.”
The hearing concluded as abruptly as it began. Palefski said he plans to appeal the sentence. Bramble was remanded into custody and left through the back door of the courtroom with a uniformed guard holding onto her belt.
San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters was among those who watched her depart. Two down, two to go.
“The judge, jury, district attorney’s office, defense attorneys, CBI and sheriff's deputies all did their jobs,” Masters posted on Facebook later that day, describing his office’s investigation into the Norwood double-homicide as one of the saddest cases he's ever worked on.
The next chapter in the legal saga over the deaths of Hannah Marshall and Makayla Roberts will unfold on Oct. 31, when Yoder sentences Alec Blair for his role in the girls’ deaths. Blair accepted a plea deal to an accessory charge in exchange for a capped sentence of 12 years and has received immunity for his testimony at the trials of his codefendants in the case.
Ceus’s husband Ashford Archer was convicted in March of two counts of fatal child abuse and one count of being an accessory to a crime. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison, and plans to appeal.
Ceus has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse. She is set to go to trial in January in Gunnison.
A fifth member who has charged, Ika Eden of Jamaica, has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial and is being treated at the state mental hospital in Pueblo.
Bramble, Ceus and Blair are all currently being held at the San Miguel County Jail in Ilium. Bramble will likely be transferred into the Colorado State Prison system within a couple of weeks, Masters said.