Mother pleads guilty over bloody religious ritual

Paterson, USA - A mother who exposed her 7-year-old daughter to bloody religious initiation rituals in Paterson that included making her watch a chicken being sacrificed and feeding the girl its heart pleaded guilty in state court Monday to cruelty and neglect of a child.

A Paterson couple who were practitioners of the Palo Mayombe religion and who the mother asked to perform the ritual were also accepted into pre-trial intervention Monday for one year.

Yenitza Colichon, of Jamesburg, Pa., brought her daughter to the Paterson home of Julio Cano and Zahira Cano in May of 2007. Prosecutors have said Colichon was about to begin Army basic training and sought to protect her daughter while she was away at that training by cloaking her in the Palo Mayombe religion, which originated in central Africa.

The girl told a teacher after the ritual that she was having nightmares and felt she could not talk to her mother, Del Russo said. The state Division of Youth and Family Services was contacted, and investigators executed a search warrant at the Canos’ Pacific Street home where the ritual occurred.

Dolls, a shrine, religious statues, bones, machetes and bundles of sticks bearing numbers and names were among artifacts found at the home. The items, some of which had blood and animal hair on them, matched a description the girl gave about what she saw at the home.

Colichon and the Canos each were indicted on charges of fourth-degree cruelty and neglect of a child. Colichon also was indicted on a second-degree endangerment charge, and the Canos also were charged with third-degree endangerment.

Passaic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Del Russo said outside of court Monday that the Canos have since parted ways with the Palo Mayombe religion. Under the terms of their acceptance into the pre-trial intervention program Monday, they will each be required to serve a probation-like term for one year after which their records will be clear.

Colichon, meanwhile, faces up to five years probation for her guilty plea when she is sentenced before state Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Portelli in Paterson on June 24.