A mother and daughter from Philadelphia, Shana and Dominique Decree, have pleaded not guilty to the brutal 2019 slaying of their five relatives.
During their court appearance, Shana and Dominique remained quiet, the Associated Press reported. Sounds of soft crying were heard coming from the two and Dominque was seen wiping her face as Shana briefly closed her eyes.
Also during the hearing, Judge Wallace Bateman allowed prosecutors more time to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty if Shana and Dominique are convicted, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The prosecutors will have until March 20 and the trial will begin on June 8.
Following the arraignment, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Rees told The Inquirer, “A case with this magnitude of tragedy, this magnitude of criminality, requires a superlative of effort… 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.”
John Fioravanti Jr., who serves as co-counsel to Shana and Dominque’s public defender, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Both Shana and Dominque face five counts of criminal homicide along with a single count of conspiracy, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.
The bodies, including Shana’s two children, Naa’Irah Smith, 25, and Damon Decree Jr., 13, were found during a welfare check inside a Morrisville apartment on Feb. 25, 2019.
Also killed were Shana’s sister, Jamilla Campbell, 42, and Campbell’s 9-year-old twin daughters, Imani and Erika Allen.
Smith, Damon Jr. and the twins were suffocated and Campbell was strangled, Bucks County Coroner’s Office revealed, the Associated Press reported.
An affidavit released the following morning alleges Shana claimed to investigators that the killings were carried out as part of a murder-suicide pact entered into by everyone living in the apartment.
She allegedly claimed to police that even the children were suicidal and had said they “wanted to die.”
It remains unclear when exactly the killings occurred.
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On the scene of the crime, police say they found Shana and Dominique “disoriented” and noticed furniture was overturned and drywall was cracked, the Associated Press reported.
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Grieving relatives say religious beliefs may have compelled Shana and Dominique to massacre their family members. Damon Decree, Sr., the ex-husband of Shana and the father of Dominique, told WPVI that both women had been “talking about demons being all around them.”
Damon said he believes the mother and daughter may have been indoctrinated into an unspecified online religious group.
“Apparently, they had dissected into some type of cult that they materialized online,” he said. “I don’t know how or what kind of cult.”
Destiny Harris, the half-sister of the twin victims, also told WPVI the family had been “going through something religiously and they decided to drag the kids into it.”
Prosecutors are hoping to find more answers 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 seems o hard to understand. It’s such an unimaginable crime,” Rees told said after Tuesday’s hearing, the Associated Press reported.