Alec Blair believed he was the incarnation of Jesus, Buddha, Adam and the Egyptian sun god Ra. He procured hallucinogenic mushrooms for Madani Ceus in Telluride. He was ordered to have sex with Nashika Bramble while she was in an advanced state of pregnancy with another man’s child.
And he took part in a religious ritual called a sealing ceremony atop Bridal Veil Falls to protect his soul from being harvested in the coming apocalypse Ceus predicted would happen during the total solar eclipse in August 2017.
These were some of the many revelations that came out of defense attorney Harvey Polefsky’s cross examination of Blair, as the second week of Bramble’s double-murder trial got underway on Monday morning at Montrose District Court.
Bramble faces two counts of first degree murder in the deaths of her daughters, Hannah Marshall and Makayla Roberts, whose bodies were found in a car on Blair’s farm on Sept. 8, 2017, a few months after Blair invited the small religious group led by Ceus to settle there.
Direct and cross examination of Blair Friday and Monday revealed the bizarre and perverse extent to which Ceus was able to control those around her in a reign of terror. Ceus ruled by instilling fear in other people, Blair said, particularly those who opposed her.
Makayla, 10, was banished to a car on the property when Ceus deemed her to be an “abomination” and said she was interfering with the group’s spiritual purification, Blair said. He was not even aware that Hannah, 8, was on his property until Ceus’s husband Ashford Archer showed him the second little girl in the car after Makayla had been banished there, about a month before the two girls died.
Ceus described the two girls as a “two-headed dragon,” Blair said, and later ordered Bramble and other members of the group to stop bringing the girls food and water. As in all things Ceus ordered, they complied.
The girls’ exact cause of death has not been determined, but pathologists who examined their skeletonized and mummified remains testified at the trial last week that they likely endured starvation, dehydration and hyperthermia or overheating.
Blair, 25, walked to the witness stand on Monday with his handcuffs loosened by District Judge Keri Yoder’s order, dressed in a gray-striped prison uniform with bright orange socks and plastic slippers, his frame over 50 pounds heavier than it had been when he was taken into custody in September 2017. Wearing dark-rimmed glasses and sipping water, he spoke clearly and directly into the microphone as Polefsky grilled him for about three hours.
Blair pled guilty in 2018 to an accessory charge in the girls’ deaths and has received immunity for the testimony provided in the trials of his co-defendants Archer, Ceus and Bramble. In exchange for his cooperation, he faces a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.
While Ceus never threatened Blair with physical violence, she did threaten him and the others in the group with psychological and spiritual harm, Blair said. He believed at the time that she would harvest his soul if he disobeyed her — a fate that would be worse than death.
Blair and the others feared that she would send them to the underworld where they would endure “the purge” and be attacked by reapers or angels of death, he said. She claimed to not only be the ruler of the cosmos, but also heaven, the underworld and the universe as a whole.
Shortly after Blair moved onto the farm with the group in the summer of 2017, he observed one of its members, Cory Sutherland, becoming mentally imbalanced, and believed that Ceus had had the reapers attack him and harvest his soul. While Blair physically could have left the property at any time, he feared that if he did leave, his soul would be harvested, too, he said.
He described a fear that grew gradually over time. “It wasn’t something that was immediate, but it was present early on,” he said.
From the beginning, Blair said, it was clear to him that Ceus (or Amma, as the group called her) was the one in charge, with Nashika Bramble and Ika Eden (who had many other aliases) in subservient roles.
After Sutherland had an apparent psychotic breakdown, Blair drove him off the property and dropped him off in Mancos. “He was acting crazy,” Blair recalled. “He was making sounds, and whispering to the wind around him.”
After Sutherland left, things got worse on the property, as Ceus became more of a dictator and embraced her role as being God, or as she put it, “Yahweh.”
Ceus angered easily, Blair said. And when she got angry, he got scared, and so did everyone else on the property. There was no doubt she was the sole authority on the property, as she began to immasculate her husband Ashford Archer. She described it as “getting her balls back,” Blair testified.
As time went on, Ceus was able to turn Blair against his parents by making him believe that they had raped him when he was a child. She said that she was his real mother. She also turned him against his friends, as he became increasingly isolated and unhinged from reality.
She told him to shave his head and wear robes of different colors. And she dictated what he and others in the group could eat, at one point becoming enraged when she found out Blair had bought a jar of peanut butter with some change he found in his truck and was eating it at night because he was so hungry.
She also told members of the group to block their emotions when they felt upset, Blair testified.
Sleep and food deprived, Blair complied when Ceus ordered him to have sex with Bramble, who was significantly pregnant at the time with a baby fathered by Cory Sutherland. Ceus said it was her child.
“Her power over you, Alec — did you feel you could say no to Madani?” Polefsky asked.
“In theory I could, but I did not feel that I could,” Blair said.
“Every decision you made on that property was made because you were fearful for your life?”
“And listening to Ceus was survival?”
“Would it be fair to say, you were operating in fear every single day?”
“You were worried about the end of times, the beasts, the apocalypse?”
Blair later testified that he had a firearm and some knives on the property, which he had buried along with his other possessions in preparation for the apocalypse.
“When Ceus ordered the children to stop being fed and couldn’t have any water anymore, did you use your gun to stop that?”
“No,” Blair said.
“Did you use your knife to stop that?”
“No,” Blair repeated.
“You were stripped of your free will, weren’t you?”
“That’s how I felt, sir,” Blair said.
“But you don’t feel that way at this point?”
“No, sir, not at all.”
Later in the day, jurors heard witness testimony from two of Blair’s friends from Norwood who met the religious group shortly after the group settled on Blair’s farm in the summer of 2017, and later helped rescue Blair’s dog, Lion. This was followed by testimony from the foster mother of the two daughters of Madani Ceus. The day closed out with a lengthy video of Nashika Bramble being interviewed by a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent on the day she turned herself in at the Grand Junction Police Station after fleeing the Norwood farm in September 2017.
Closing arguments are expected to take place on Wednesday or Thursday this week.