Pennsylvania mother, daughter plead guilty to killing 5 family members, get life sentences

Pennsylvania mother, daughter plead guilty to killing 5 family members, get life sentences
Shana Decree, top left, and her daughter, Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their Morrisville, Penn., apartment. At right, an investigator is seen stepping out of the apartment on Feb. 26, 2019, the day after the bodies were found. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

MORRISVILLE, Penn. — Many tears were shed in a Pennsylvania courtroom Monday as a Morrisville mother and daughter admitted to killing five of their family members last year, including three children.

Shana Selena Decree, 47, and Dominique Kiaran Decree, 21, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to five counts of first-degree murder in a Bucks County courtroom. Both mother and daughter were sentenced to serve five consecutive life sentences, or sentences to be served one after another.

The pair killed two of Shana Decree’s other children, Naa’lrah Smith, 25, and Damon Decree Jr., 13, both of Morrisville, as well as her sister, Jamilla Campbell, 42, and Campbell’s twin 9-year-old daughters, Imani and Erica Allen. Campbell and her children were from Trenton, New Jersey.

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Both women apologized to their family for their crimes, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The hardest thing for me to do is decide who to say ‘I’m sorry’ to first,” Shana Decree said, according to the newspaper. “To my family, I am sorry for taking away these beautiful souls in such a horrible manner.”

Dominique Decree sobbed as she said the murders will haunt her for the remainder of her life.

“I’m so sorry for everything that happened,” she said. “I truly don’t understand why it happened.”

Judge Wallace Bateman called the harm the women had done “unimaginable” and said the case was all the more tragic because they are remorseful for what they have done.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t bring them back,” Bateman told the women. “You can’t say, ‘Sorry,’ and expect people to move on with their lives.”

The victims were found dead around 4 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in a bedroom inside the Decrees' basement unit at the Robert Morris Apartments, according to Bucks County prosecutors. The murders took place over the course of the weekend.

The three children and Smith were asphyxiated, authorities said. Campbell was strangled with a ligature.

Court documents indicate that a caseworker with Bucks County Children and Youth Services went to the Decrees apartment to check on the family because Damon Decree’s principal had reported on Feb. 1 that the teen had missed several days of school and his mother was not answering the phone.

Shana Decree, 47, and her daughter, 21-year-old Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their apartment (door highlighted at left) at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville, Penn. The complex is seen here in an August 2019 Street View image.
Shana Decree, 47, and her daughter, 21-year-old Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their apartment (door highlighted at left) at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville, Penn. The complex is seen here in an August 2019 Street View image. (Google)

The caseworker, who had visited the apartment Feb. 5, was following up on that first visit.

When no one answered her knock on the door, the caseworker had a maintenance worker check the apartment, according to a probable cause affidavit. The worker’s 911 call came in at 4:16 p.m.

All five bodies were found crammed into one of the apartment’s bedrooms. Shana and Dominique Decree were found lying “disoriented” in a separate bedroom.

“The apartment was in disarray, with furniture turned over and with broken glass and clutter throughout,” the affidavit said.

The caseworker told authorities the apartment was not in disarray during her Feb. 5 visit.

Shana Decree, 47, and her daughter, 21-year-old Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their apartment at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville, Penn., seen here surrounded by crime scene tape on Feb. 26, 2019.
Shana Decree, 47, and her daughter, 21-year-old Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their apartment at the Robert Morris Apartments in Morrisville, Penn., seen here surrounded by crime scene tape on Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Dominique Decree had superficial knife wounds to her neck that were bleeding when the family was found. The wounds could be seen in her booking photo.

The younger Decree initially claimed she did not know what had happened in her family’s apartment, according to the affidavit.

“Dominique at first claimed an unknown Black male caused the injuries to her neck, denied knowing what happened and asked if her family was alive,” the court document said. “She also repeatedly advised her wish to die.”

Shana Decree also initially denied knowledge of what took place, but then told detectives Campbell’s boyfriend had come in with two other men and killed everyone but her and Dominique Decree.

Dominique Decree later named her aunt’s boyfriend and the two unidentified men, as well. That story did not hold up for long, however.

“Shana later told police that everyone at the apartment, including the 9-year-olds and the 13-year-old, wanted to die,” the affidavit said. “Shana advised that all, including the children, were talking about suicide.”

Mother and daughter each gave conflicting stories of who killed which victims. Both blamed Campbell for killing at least one of the children before Dominique Decree strangled Campbell.

“Separate mental health professionals offered their opinions that Shana and Dominique Decree were guilty but mentally ill at the time of the murders,” a statement from the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office said.

Court-appointed psychologists and psychiatrists found that both women suffer from schizoid personality disorder, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, the Inquirer reported. Both had received mental health treatment at varying times in their lives.

Dominique Decree’s treatment started at age 5, her attorney said.

Read the probable cause affidavit for Shana Decree’s arrest below. The narrative in Dominique Decree’s affidavit is identical.

Shana Decree’s attorney, Christa Dunleavy, said her client had grown isolated and, at the time of the killings, was suffering from delusions.

“(Shana Decree) believed the world was ending and there were demons in her house, and she had to obey them,” Dunleavy said, according to the Inquirer. “Her family tried to help her, but the delusions were too strong.”

Both Shana Decree and Campbell appeared to be isolating themselves in the month prior to the murders, family members told the Inquirer last year. They had pulled their children from school, Decree in Morrisville and Campbell in Trenton, where her twins were enrolled.

They and their children retreated into the small apartment where the murders later took place. Smith, who lived elsewhere with her fiancé, also secluded herself within her mother’s apartment.

“I really wish I could ask my sister what happened,” Shana Decree and Campbell’s sister, Walidah Campbell, told the newspaper. "Naa’Irah’s fiancé was concerned. The children’s fathers were concerned.

“It all happened so fast.”

Walidah Campbell told the Inquirer that she and other family members had tried for two weeks to contact her sisters and the children. The sisters' father, James Campbell, tried to visit but no one answered the door when he did so.

“This is not normal for them,” Walidah Campbell said. “They were all very sweet, intelligent people.”

About 16 of the pair’s relatives attended Monday’s sentencing hearing, including Damon Decree Sr., who is the father of both Damon Jr. and Dominique Decree. According to prosecutors, he spoke of the pain of losing his son to murder and his daughter to prison.

Shana Decree, 47, and her daughter, 21-year-old Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their Morrisville, Penn., apartment. In a Feb. 28, 2019, image, a makeshift memorial sits outside the apartment, where detectives continue to investigate the killings.
Shana Decree, 47, and her daughter, 21-year-old Dominique Decree, pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, to the February 2019 murders of five family members in their Morrisville, Penn., apartment. In a Feb. 28, 2019, image, a makeshift memorial sits outside the apartment, where detectives continue to investigate the killings. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

All he has is “thoughts of what might have been.” The pain drove him to attempt suicide, the Inquirer reported.

“The bottom line is, I didn’t do the No. 1 job a parent has: I didn’t keep him safe,” Damon Decree said. “I may not have been the best dad, but no one deserves this.”

Damon Decree Jr. was remembered as a kind boy who, according to CBS Philadelphia, started a club at his school called the Kindness Club. Its goal was to curtain bullying.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Rees read victim impact statements from Smith’s father and sister, who said it felt “like a bulldozer ran over” her when she learned of her sister’s murder.

Ronald Smith wrote of his daughter’s plans to marry her fiancé and his dashed anticipation of her big day.

“As you can see, she didn’t get to do this, because her mother and sister had other plans,” Smith said, according to the newspaper. “They treacherously took five beautiful lives off the face of the Earth.”

Rees said after the sentencing that he had never dealt with such a heartbreaking case so full of sadness and loss.

“If you have kids, go hug your kids,” Rees said. "If you have parents who are still around, if you have brothers and sisters, go give them a hug. If you can’t give them a hug, give them a call, send them a text, send them an email.

“The one thing that this has brought home to me is that this is all family. Take every last moment and use every last moment to tell your family you love them.”