A Bucks County judge on Tuesday gave prosecutors more time to decide whether to seek the death penalty against a Morrisville mother and daughter accused of killing five relatives last year, including two 9-year-old sisters and a 13-year-old boy, in an apparent botched murder-suicide pact.

“A case with this magnitude of tragedy, this magnitude of criminality, requires a superlative level of effort,” Deputy District Attorney Christopher Rees, the lead prosecutor on the case, said after the arraignment of Shana and Dominique Decree. “To put it bluntly, we don’t want to get anything wrong, because these victims deserve our best, and we’re willing to take as much time as we need to get it right.”

Judge Wallace Bateman said prosecutors can have until March 20 to file motions laying out why the Decrees should be put to death if convicted in the killings, a seemingly confounding case of domestic violence steeped in bizarre behavior and religious imagery.

The two were arrested in February 2019, when police officers conducting a wellness check went into their cramped apartment. Five people, including Shana Decree’s 13-year-old son, Damon, were found dead in a bedroom, according to investigators. Four had been asphyxiated, the fifth strangled. Down the hall, investigators found Shana Decree and her daughter lying disoriented in a bed, surrounded by overturned furniture and other signs of a struggle.

Shana, 46, and Dominique, 20, told detectives variations of the same story: Everyone in the apartment had “wanted to die" and openly talked about suicide. Both confessed to participating in what appeared to be a murder-suicide pact, but their accounts differed on who killed whom.

Both were charged with five counts of homicide and one count of conspiracy for killing Damon, as well as Jamillah Campbell, Shana’s 42-year-old sister; Shana’s daughter Naa’Irah Smith, 25; and Campbell’s twin daughters, Imani and Erika Allen, both 9.

They entered not guilty pleas at Tuesday’s arraignment.

Police found Shana and Dominique Decree lying disoriented in a bed inside a unit at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville. Five of their family members were found dead in a bedroom nearby.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Police found Shana and Dominique Decree lying disoriented in a bed inside a unit at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville. Five of their family members were found dead in a bedroom nearby.

Rees said prosecutors will pursue first-degree murder convictions, which carry life prison terms.

» READ MORE: The charging documents filed against Shana and Dominique Decree

Jailed without bail since the killings, the two sat in silence during the proceeding, answering the judge’s questions softly. At one point, during a short break, Dominique Decree sobbed.

Family members and friends said the suspects and victims had started living together inside a small unit in the Robert Morris Apartments a few weeks before the murders. All seven had withdrawn from the outside world, spending most of their time together in the basement apartment and limiting communication with others.

The texts and calls they did exchange were clipped, and often included references to Biblical apocalypses, family members told The Inquirer. They spoke about “pearly gates” and of seeing angels and demons everywhere.

Such a drastic shift confused the group’s family and friends, who didn’t understand what they were trying to convey.

Rees declined to comment on the perceived motive behind the killings, saying more will be revealed during the trial, tentatively scheduled for June.

“The question is ‘Why did this happen?’ and that’s my question as well, because it’s so hard to understand, and so it’s such an unimaginable crime, these losses of life,” Rees said. “At the end of the day, what’s much more important to me is that I’m able to look in the eyes of the parents of the victims, or their loved ones or their friends, and say to them, justice has been served.”