The Washington Post

Woman accused in exorcism killings claims insanity

A Montgomery County Police handout photo of Monifa Denise Sanford. (MONTGOMERY COUNTY POLICE / HANDOUT/EPA)

An attorney for one of two Montgomery County women accused of fatally stabbing two children in a bloody exorcism said in court Friday that he would pursue an insanity defense, known in Maryland as “not criminally responsible.”

The defendant, Monifa Sanford, 21, is scheduled to be tried on first-degree murder charges in late August. She is accused of killing the two children on Jan. 17 inside a Germantown townhouse.

The children’s mother, Zakieya Avery, faces the same charges in the deaths of the children — ages 18 months and 2 years old. Their older siblings — ages 5 and 8 — survived knife wounds. Both women also are charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder

Sanford’s attorney, David Felsen, said after the hearing that his client may end up facing a two-part trial. The first part, he said would address “whether she committed the acts alleged and — if she did — the second part would address whether she was criminally responsible.”

Under Maryland law, people can be deemed not criminally responsible if they essentially didn’t understand that what they were doing was wrong. More specifically, the law reads: “A defendant is not criminally responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of that conduct, the defendant, because of a mental disorder or mental retardation, lacks substantial capacity to: 1) appreciate the criminality of that conduct, or 2) conform that conduct to the requirements of law.”

Get updates on your area delivered via e-mail

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Be a man and cry
Program turns prisoners into poets
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
Play Videos
The signature dish of Charleston, S.C.
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
The most interesting woman you've never heard of
Play Videos
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
The art of tortilla-making
A man committed to journalism, caught in the crossfire
Play Videos
Tips for (relatively) stress-free dining out with kids
How to get organized for back to school
How the new credit card chip makes purchases more secure

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.