The mother and daughter who prosecutors say killed five members of their family, including three children, in a cramped Morrisville apartment waived a court hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday and are set to be arraigned in Bucks County court next month.
Shana Decree, 46 and her daughter Dominique, 19, were to appear before District Judge John J. Durkin in Doylestown for a preliminary hearing on murder and related charges, but through their lawyers, they agreed to skip that step. Such hearings, at which prosecutors present evidence and ask a judge to hold the case for trial, typically offer the first public glimpse of how law enforcement officials believe a crime unfolded and why. In this case, those details are elusive, and the motive in the case remains a mystery.
The two women made international headlines in February, when the bodies of five of their relatives, including Shana’s Decree’s sister, teenage son and 9-year-old twin nieces, were found in the apartment the family shared.
Last month, the county medical examiner ruled that four of the victims were asphyxiated, and one victim, Jamilla Campbell, was strangled.
All five deaths were ruled to be homicides.
Little else has been revealed in the weeks since a county social worker discovered the bodies during an unannounced visit to the Decrees’ apartment.
In statements to investigators, Shana and Dominique Decree said the victims, including the children, “wanted to die” and had been discussing suicide, according to the affidavit of probable cause for their arrests. Police say the two women confessed to killing their relatives in what appeared to be a murder-suicide pact, though their accounts of who killed whom differed.
A caseworker from Bucks County Children and Youth Social Services who had been working with the family arrived unannounced on Feb. 25 and when no one answered the door, asked a maintenance worker at the Robert Morris apartments to let her into the unit.
Inside, they found the two women lying disoriented on a bed. Nearby were the bodies of Campbell, Shana’s 42-year-old sister, as well as Shana’s son, Damon Decree Jr., 13; her daughter Naa’Irah Smith, 25; and Campbell’s daughters, Imani and Erika Allen, both 9.
In the weeks leading up the murders, relatives said, the entire group had retreated from the outside world, huddling together in the apartment and avoiding contact with family and friends.
The few communications they had with others were cryptic, family members said, recalling messages laden with bizarre religious imagery, including talk of “demons” and preparing to enter the “pearly gates.”
Naa’Irah’s father, Ronald Smith, said he became so concerned about his daughter that he drove to Morrisville from his home to Maryland in a desperate attempt to contact her. She and the others inside the apartment refused to come outside, he said, and only answered the door after he called police.
Last month, Deputy District Attorney Christopher W. Rees, the lead prosecutor in the case, asked that Thursday’s hearing be held in the county justice center in Doylestown, rather than in the judge’s smaller courtroom in Morrisville “in the interest of justice.” Rees wrote that the change in venue would “provide more space for the family members of the victims and defendants and would insure the safety and security of all involved.”
“This is only the first step in a very long process,” Rees said of the waived hearing. “And I assure you that the Morrisville Borough Police, Bucks County detectives and Bucks County District Attorney’s office will continue to make sure these two women are brought to justice.”