After she stood before Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Terrance McGann in Rockville on Monday and pleaded guilty, Zakieya L. Avery has been found not criminally responsible for the 2014 killing of her two youngest children, 18-month-old Norell and 2-year-old Zyana in their townhouse on Cherry Bend Court in Germantown, according to reports.
Avery had faced life in prison, but she will be sent to a mental health institution instead.
The mother of four children admitted to killing the children with her roommate. She also admitted to trying to kill her to older children 5-year-old daughter Taniya, and 8-year-old son Martello, Taniya and Martello both survived the attack.
Last year the roommate – Monifa Sanford, now 24 –pleaded guilty in January 2015 to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder and was ruled criminally insane by a Montgomery County judge, an opinion based largely on findings of state psychiatrists. The judge sent Sanford to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital.
The two women called themselves “demon assassins” and believed they were performing an exorcism on the children.
In Maryland, a defendant can be found criminally insane if mental illness keeps them from understanding that they are committing a crime. Last year, a state psychiatrist concluded that Sanford was legally insane at the time of the killings.
In court, this week family and doctors testified that Avery had a long history of mental illness, including hearing voices. The doctors said Avery was insane at the time of the murders and should not be held criminally responsible. Judge McGann issued a ruling agreeing with this assessment on Thursday, Sept. 15.
According to WTOP radio, Judge McGann based his decision on basis that Avery didn’t stand to gain financially from the murders of her children, had no history of anger problems and no issues with alcohol of drug abuse. The judge was convinced that Avery believed that her home had been invaded by demons.
WTOP reported that Judge McGann recounted Avery’s statements about being impregnated by an imaginary boyfriend and witness testimony that she was “responding to internal stimuli” before the murders. As a result, the judge believed Avery was not dealing with reality.
McGann decided that Avery was not criminally responsible based on her diagnoses of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, which were testified to by doctors for the defense.
Photo courtesy MCPD.