By Alice Popovici
ROCKVILLE, Maryland (Reuters) - A Maryland woman accused of murdering her two toddlers, who she believed had been possessed by demons, and another woman also charged in the murders will undergo psychiatric evaluation to determine whether they are competent to stand trial, officials said on Friday.
Zakieya Avery, 28, and Monifa Sanford, 21, are charged with strangling and stabbing to death Avery's 1-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter on January 17, after believing they saw the children's eyes turn black, which they took to be a sign of demonic possession, prosecutors said.
Avery has been evaluated at the local jail, and Maryland District Court Judge Eugene Wolfe ordered her to be transferred to a hospital for further review. Sanford will undergo an initial evaluation to determine if she will also be transferred to the same psychiatric facility, the judge ordered.
Each faces two counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder for allegedly stabbing Avery's two other children, a 5-year-old girl and 8-year old boy, who are expected to recover.
The children were found in the townhouse in Germantown, Maryland, where they lived with both women.
The purpose of the psychiatric evaluation is to determine each woman's competence to stand trial and assist in her own defense, Montgomery County State Attorney John McCarthy said.
"The issue of criminal responsibility is a separate issue," he said. "That issue has not been raised in this case yet."
Police said Avery and Sanford are part of a four-person group calling itself the "Demon Assassins." The other members, two men, are being sought but not believed to be dangerous, police said.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)