A woman and her adult daughter pleaded not guilty of charges related to the murder of five relatives, including three children in an apartment in Philadelphia in 2019, police said.
Shana Decree, 46, and her 20-year-old daughter Dominique Decree affirmed their pleas to charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy on Tuesday. Prosecutors have till March 20 to decide on seeking the death penalty, and a trial is set for June 8, according to the Associated Press.
Authorities found the five bodies after a child welfare officer conducted an unannounced visit in the Morrisville apartment in Bucks County outside Philadelphia in February last year. The bodies of Shana's children Naa'Irah Smith, 25, and Damon Decree Jr., 13, along with her sister Jamilla Campbell; and Campbell's 9-year-old twin daughters, Imani and Erika Allen were found.
Investigation revealed four victims, including the children, were suffocated while one, Shana's sister Jamilla, was strangled to death. Court records stated that police found Shana and Dominique Degree "disoriented" inside the thrashed apartment. The described apartment had its furniture turned over, drywall cracked, and broken glass all over the place.
The mysterious motive: Murder-suicide pact?
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Rees said the motive behind the murder had remained unclear over the past year but believe that the answer could become clearer during the trial. "I feel like the questions are: Why did this happen? Why did this happen? Why did this happen? It's the same question I have because it does seem so hard to understand," he told AP. "It's such an unimaginable crime."
However, a police affidavit revealed Shana had told authorities that the killings were part of a murder-suicide pact that everyone living in the apartment had agreed on. She also reportedly said everyone, including the children, were suicidal and told officials that "they wanted to die."
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub had called the killings "a terrible tragedy" last year.
Youth kills mother, younger brother
The news came days after authorities arrested a teenager suspected of killing his mother and six-year-old brother in North Carolina after he was found shoplifting, police said. Levi Norwood, 17, was found after an employee called authorities for shoplifting from a store last week.
Investigators said Norwood killed his mother, brother, and injuring his father in Midland, Virginia, on Friday. His father told deputies he came home to find his wife and youngest son dead and Levi holding a gun. He said while Levi shot him, he managed to escape and call for help.
Officials were on a manhunt on Saturday, leading to the cancellation of community events. Investigators are yet to discern why the teenager went on a shooting spree.