Juan Ignacio Blanco  


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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Starved her one-year-old son to death on the orders of a cult leader
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 2007
Date of arrest: August 10, 2008
Date of birth: 1987
Victim profile: Javon Thompson, 16-month-old (her son)
Method of murder: Dehydration and starvation
Location: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty on March 30, 2009. Sentenced to 20 years in prison, suspend all but the 19 months served, and ordered her to complete five years probation on April 21, 2010

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'Cult members made me starve my one-year-old boy'

Mother speaks out for first time about killing of son after he refused to say 'amen' before meal

September 5, 2011

A mother who starved her one-year-old son to death on the orders of a cult leader after he did not say 'amen' before a meal has said she was paralysed by fear and was 'crazy'.

Speaking for the first time, Ria Ramkissoon, who was 19 when her son died, said she wanted to save her son but was convinced she would be defying God's will if she did so.

The cult's leader, who called herself Queen Antoinette, had told Miss Ramkissoon that her 15-month-old son Javon Thompson needed to be starved as he was possessed by an evil spirit.

Miss Ramkissoon said that she thought she would be guaranteed eternal damnation if she did not follow Antoinette who cited the Bible as her authority.

'It's like it's somebody else's life, but it's not,' Miss Ramkissoon said in her first interview since Javon's death.

'That is my life, and those are the choices that I've made and those were the fears that I dealt with, no matter how ridiculous they may be to somebody else.'

The 19-year-old mother had been living with the woman for several months when her son did not say 'amen' before a meal one morning.

That word was one of the few Javon Thompson could not say at 15 months old, and Antoinette told Miss Ramkissoon not to feed him until he said it.

Over the next week, he whimpered and grew sluggish and sallow. By the time Antoinette relented and told Miss Ramkissoon to feed the boy, it was too late. Javon died in his mother's arms.

Investigators discovered his body more than a year later.

Antoinette is serving a 50-year sentence for second-degree murder. Her adult daughter and another follower are also in prison.

Now living in a faith-based treatment centre, Miss Ramkissoon said she knows it's difficult to comprehend how any mother could watch her son starve.

She freely uses the word 'crazy' to describe her actions.

For years, Miss Ramkissoon clung to the belief that Javon would be resurrected, as Antoinette said he would.

When Miss Ramkissoon pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, she insisted on a provision stating that her plea would be withdrawn if Javon came back to life.

Only since her release from custody last year has she fully let go of that belief, allowing her to properly mourn the boy who would have turned six on Saturday.

'None of that had to happen to him. He's in a house surrounded by people who are basically doing this to him,' Miss Ramkissoon said.

'I felt like if anyone had a responsibility to him there that it was me, and I basically gave that up.

'So yeah, that's a difficult thing. To die and to suffer in that kind of way, that's not easy to have to swallow. That's something that I'm very much responsible for, as much as anybody else.'

Miss Ramkissoon said she joined the cult after she became disillusioned with traditional churches in Baltimore where she lived after moving from her native Trinidad aged 7.

She got pregnant around her 18th birthday with her boyfriend who ended up in jail.

She claims that during her pregnancy her step-father tried to choke her.

Members of Antoinette's group took turns recruiting Miss Ramkissoon. Though they were stingy with details about the arrangement, she was desperate, and their offer began to sound attractive.

'I had a really strong fear that [Javon] was going to get taken away from me if I didn't know what I was doing,' she said. 'That's kind of when I took things in my own hands.'

In April 2006, Ramkissoon asked her mother to drive her and Javon to a park. She packed a few outfits and other supplies for him in a diaper bag.

For herself, she brought nothing but the clothes she wore. Cult members met them and drove them to their home.

Miss Ramkissoon stopped answering her cellphone, then turned it off and handed it over to Antoinette, who forbid her followers from going to the doctor.

Antoinette reportedly seemed wary of Javon from the beginning, planting the seeds of doubt in Miss Ramkissoon's mind.

Out of the blue, she would say, 'There's something wrong with that child.'

After he refused to say 'amen', she said Javon had a 'spirit of rebellion' inside him, and that only fasting could exorcise it.

When Javon died in late 2006 or early 2007, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection. They packed the body into a suitcase.

Miss Ramkissoon sprayed it with disinfectant and stuffed the suitcase with fabric softener sheets to mask the odour.

Miss Ramkissoon said she now realises that Javon died because of her own decisions, not because of God's will.

'It is difficult,' she said, 'because I don't think it's settled, fully, the weight of what was lost.'
Ramkissoon said she's often asked how she can still believe in God. But she credits her faith, and the fellowship she's found at the treatment centre, for allowing her to take control of her life.

'Coming from a cult, people don't want to hear you talk about God,' she said.

'I may have... approached it the wrong way. It doesn't mean that God isn't true and that the community and love and family don't exist in the right way.'


Justice served in Ramkissoon case

Those most responsible for toddler's death received tough sentences

By Julie Drake - The Baltimore Sun

June 2, 2010

A number of local citizens have raised questions about the sentencing of Ria Ramkissoon, mother of 16-month-old Javon Thompson, who died of dehydration and starvation while living with a cult in West Baltimore. In order to understand her sentence, it is important to understand the facts that formed the basis for Ms. Ramkissoon's guilty plea and the trial of her co-defendants.

In 2006, Ms. Ramkissoon was persuaded by a friend to join a household run by a woman who called herself "Queen Antoinette." Ms. Ramkissoon was told that this was a Christian household where she could devote herself to the care of her child, Javon, then 7 months. Toni Sloan, aka "Queen Antoinette," ran her household under a strict set of rules, which she said were based on biblical principles. As time passed, the rules multiplied and became more restrictive. Eventually, all members were required to give up their personal possessions (including identification), as well as contact with old friends and family. The children were not permitted to attend school, and the women were expected to stay home and care for the children. With the exception of Queen Antoinette, her daughter Trevia Williams ("Princess Trevia"), and her chief aide, Marcus Cobbs ("Prince Marcus"), no one could leave the house, unless they were accompanied by another member. Queen Antoinette claimed that God spoke directly to her; failure to follow her rules would result in damnation.

One morning in early 2007, Javon, then 16 months, refused to say "amen" after the blessing before breakfast. Queen Antoinette told the others that Javon possessed a "spirit of rebellion" and that God told her that the way to purge Javon of this evil spirit was to deprive him of food and water until he said "amen." As Javon cried from hunger, Queen Antoinette warned the household members not to feed him. Ms. Ramkissoon was so distraught over this that Queen Antoinette ordered Ms. Williams to take control of Javon; she did not want Ms. Ramkissoon to disobey her order. When it became clear that Javon was on the verge of death, he was returned to his mother, and he died in her arms.

After Javon's death, Queen Antoinette ordered everyone to kneel and pray for his resurrection. God would bring Javon back to life, she said, but only if they had enough faith. As the days passed and Javon's body began to decompose, the only person who remained by his body was his mother. When Ms. Ramkissoon wondered why Javon had not risen from the dead, Queen Antoinette told her she wasn't a good enough mother and she didn't have enough faith. Ms. Ramkissoon believed her. The cult members moved to Philadelphia, where Javon's body was placed in a suitcase inside a locked shed. It was left there when the group moved again, to New York. As of the trial date, Ms. Ramkissoon still believed that Javon could be resurrected.

Ms. Ramkissoon received a sentence of 20 years, with all but the time she has already served suspended, and five years' probation. Pursuant to her plea agreement, she testified at the trial of Queen Antoinette, Trevia Williams and Marcus Cobbs, helping to secure convictions of all three on charges of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. Also pursuant to the agreement, Ms. Ramkissoon was immediately driven to a residential treatment facility, where she will be held indefinitely. At Ms. Ramkissoon's insistence, the court agreed that if Javon is resurrected, she can come back to court and withdraw her guilty plea.

Why did I agree to let Ms. Ramkissoon withdraw her guilty plea if Javon is resurrected? If Ms. Ramkissoon's religious beliefs are correct, and Javon resurrects, it would be legally appropriate. That said, I do not share Ms. Ramkissoon's religious beliefs, and I believe the likelihood of Javon's resurrection in my lifetime is too remote to be a concern. I carefully specified on the record that this condition involved resurrection of Javon's body not reincarnation into another body.

Why did Ms. Ramkissoon receive probation? There are a number of reasons why one co-defendant receives a more lenient sentence than the others, several of which applied to Ms. Ramkissoon's case.

First, it was clear to everyone that the central and most culpable defendant in this case was Queen Antoinette. She was the leader of the cult. She issued the order to withhold food and water from Javon. She warned the others not to feed Javon and removed Javon from Ms. Ramkissoon's control. Our first priority was to convict Queen Antoinette of child abuse and murder and to secure a substantial prison term in her case. In order to do that, it was necessary to obtain eye-witness testimony, and Ms. Ramkissoon was willing to tell the truth.

Second, and equally important, I believe that justice was best served by placing Ms. Ramkissoon in a residential treatment facility rather than in prison. It was clear to everyone who interviewed Ms. Ramkissoon that she had been indoctrinated through classic "brainwashing" techniques into a cult. She had no malice or ill will toward Javon; quite the contrary, she believed Queen Antoinette was acting in his best interests. Nonetheless, she was extremely distraught when Javon began showing signs of distress. After Javon's death, Ms. Ramkissoon spent weeks by his decomposing body, praying for his resurrection. This was not an individual who was acting out of a classic criminal intent (e.g. malice, anger, desire for revenge or gain), but rather a mother who has and will suffer anguish over the result of her inaction.

It should be noted that the main reason Ms. Ramkissoon was not found "not criminally responsible" is because her delusions were of a religious nature and were shared by other people; therefore they could not be classified as a "mental disorder."

However, Ms. Ramkissoon was not simply released to freedom. A condition of her probation is that she remain in and successfully complete a long-term, in-patient, residential treatment program. Should she leave the facility against medical advice, fail to successfully complete the program, or violate any other condition of her probation, Ms. Ramkissoon could be incarcerated for almost 20 years.

As a prosecutor, my ethical obligation is to do justice, not to secure a conviction or the maximum possible sentence. In the case of Ria Ramkissoon, I believe the guilty plea and sentence were just.

In other circumstances, I would make different sentencing recommendations. When I prosecuted Mark Castillo for drowning his three children, I asked for and received a sentence of three consecutive life terms without parole, the harshest sentence the defendant could have received.

Justice requires a meticulous review of the facts and the evidence, the role of each defendant, and the wishes of the family members. That is what I did in this case. I respect the fact that not everyone will agree with me, but I would ask those who disagree to take a careful look at the factors I considered before rushing to judgment.

(Editor's note: On May 18, "Queen Antoinette" was sentenced to 50 years incarceration. Both Trevia Williams and Marcus Cobbs were sentenced to 50 years incarceration, with all but 15 years suspended.)


Suspected cult members sentenced

Defendants get 150 combined years for starving child

By Tricia Bishop - The Baltimore Sun

May 18, 2010

Three accused cult members, convicted of starving a toddler to death in the name of religion, were sentenced Tuesday to a collective 150 years in prison.

Toni Sloan, 41, who claimed God had christened her "Queen Antoinette," received a 50-year sentence composed of two consecutive 25-year terms, one for second-degree murder and the other for first-degree child abuse. Sloan said she was "not sorry" for the toddler's death.

Trevia Williams, 22, and Marcus Cobbs, 23 received the same sentence, with all but 15 years suspended for each.

"There can still be hope" for them, said Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory. He did not express the same optimism for Sloan, who had issued the order in 2006 to starve the 16-month-old boy until he said "amen," according to prosecutors.

"This crime is somewhat mystifying to me," Doory said at sentencing. "What that means is, you didn't care. And also, you knew you didn't care, and you just let it happen. Each of you, with varying degrees of responsibility, stood by and watched that child die a horrible death."

The judge had dismissed first-degree murder charges against the three during the trial, saying that he did not believe that they had intended to kill the boy.

During the trial, Sloan was characterized as the head of the group, a cult leader who lured young people into her home and controlled the most minute aspects of their lives through her self-styled religion, down to what colors they wore and whether they were allowed to feed their sons.

"You were a collector of people, a collector of disaffected children, a collector of lost souls," Doory said to Sloan. "You are the person most responsible."

According to court testimony and prosecutor statements, Sloan took in at least a half-dozen young people, including her co-defendants, over several months in 2006, convincing them that they would suffer "eternal damnation" if they failed to follow her rules.

Sloan "couldn't tolerate any dissent or disobedience, not even from a 16-month-old child," said prosecutor Julie Drake, chief of the Baltimore state's attorney's Family Violence Division, who tried the case alongside Assistant State's Attorney Patricia McLane.

Sloan maintained her innocence Tuesday.

"I still believe, and I still stand firm, that I'm not guilty and the truth will eventually come out, however long it takes," Sloan said in court.

Among the group living with Sloan in 2006 was 19-year-old Ria Ramkissoon. She had moved in with her infant son, Javon Thompson, in part because she wasn't getting along with her stepfather at home.

Things were fine at first. But when Javon stopped repeating his mother's "amen" after prayers, Sloan ordered food and water withheld from him until he said it. He never did. His body wasted away, and he died within a week.

Ramkissoon testified that she had agreed to let Javon go hungry because she thought it would rid him of a "spirit of rebellion" that she took to be an actual entity. After his death, she was convinced that she could resurrect him if only she had enough faith.

Ramkissoon is now in a long-term, residential treatment facility receiving psychiatric care. She had pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and was sentenced last month to a 20-year term, with the prison time commuted to the 19 months she had already served. As part of her plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against her if her son came back to life.

"It was clear to everyone who interviewed Ms. Ramkissoon that she had been indoctrinated through classic 'brain-washing' techniques into a cult," Drake said in a statement released Tuesday to counter criticism that the sentence was too lenient.

"She had no malice or ill will toward Javon; quite the contrary, she believed Queen Antoinette was acting in his best interests," Drake wrote.

Ramkissoon testified during the weeklong trial of her three co-defendants, who represented themselves and were convicted in early March.

None of the defendants has shown remorse for Javon's death or accepted responsibility.

Williams, Sloan's biological daughter, mumbled something about not trusting the court when asked if she wanted to make a statement. She was described as "the enforcer" of Sloan's rules.

Cobbs, the third defendant, told the court that he had nothing to say. He had planned to help Javon once but had been talked out of it, according to trial testimony. Cobbs tried to cover up the boy's death, the jury found.

Javon's body was found in 2008 in a Pennsylvania shed, folded into a green, roller-bag suitcase.

In addition to their 15-year prison sentences, Cobbs and Williams will be placed on probation after their release and ordered to stay away from children who are not relatives and to avoid contact with their co-defendants. That means that Williams will be barred from seeing her mother.

Each defendant will be eligible for parole after serving half of his or her term.

Javon's grandmother, Seeta Newton, who had fought to save him from the moment her daughter took him away, read a statement in court.

"I look at Javon's picture every day and I realize that I'm never, ever going to hold him, never see him never watch him grow up, never give him love again," Newton said. "I want him back, and it hurts me every day."

Turning to Sloan, she decried her use of religion to manipulate young people.

"You sneak up on them when their families are not looking," Newton said. "The most disgusting part of this is that you do it in the name of God."


Ria Ramkissoon: Cultist Gets Probation For Starving 1-Year-Old Son To Death

By Ben Nuckols -

April 21, 2010

BALTIMORE A woman who starved her 1-year-old son to death at the behest of a religious cult leader was given a sentence Wednesday that won't require her to serve any more jail time.

Ria Ramkissoon, 23, pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in the death of Javon Thompson. She admitted denying food and water to the 16-month-old child when he did not say "Amen" before a meal. Javon wasted away over the course of a week before his heart stopped beating.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory suspended the balance of Ramkissoon's 20-year sentence and ordered her to report to a residential treatment facility for young women. The treatment program includes Bible study, and Ramkissoon will be required to complete the program, which doesn't have a specified length, before she can live on her own.

Ramkissoon, who has been in jail since her August 2008 arrest, also was given five years of probation.

At the time of Javon's death, Ramkissoon was living with a small religious cult led by a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette. She told Ramkissoon that the child had "a spirit of rebellion" inside him and that denying him food would cure him.

After Javon died in late 2006 or early 2007, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection, and Ramkissoon spent weeks with her son's body. She testified in February at Antoinette's trial that she still believes her son will be resurrected, and her plea deal contained an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the plea will be withdrawn.

A jury convicted Antoinette, her daughter Trevia Williams and another follower, Marcus A. Cobbs, of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. They face 60 years in prison when they are sentenced next month.

Ramkissoon appeared more relaxed Wednesday than when she testified at trial. Her attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon felt intimidated by Antoinette, who acted as her own attorney and cross-examined Ramkissoon extensively.

Before the hearing began on Wednesday, Ramkissoon smiled, gestured and made faces at her mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton.

"I just want to say thank you to everybody that did their best ... and listened to me and believed in me," Ramkissoon told the court in a soft voice.

Silverman said the swift jury verdict against Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs helped his client understand what the cult had done to her and her son.

"She was really sucked in and duped by these people," Silverman said. "I think she is starting to realize, albeit painfully realize, that there will be no resurrection, that Queen Antoinette never spoke with God."

Khadan-Newton said her relationship with her daughter had improved markedly in the past several weeks. When she was arrested in August 2008, "she was like a zombie," and she wanted no contact with her family, Khadan-Newton said.

Ramkissoon was born in Trinidad and raised a Hindu; she converted to Christianity as a teenager. Javon was born out of wedlock when Ramkissoon was 18.

Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake said the sentence was compassionate but fair.

"The state has always seen her as something of a victim in this case," Drake said.

Doory reminded Ramkissoon that she would have to live with knowing she was partly responsible for Javon's death, but added, "You were misled and did not do this with any ill will to your son."


3 reputed cult members convicted in toddler's death

Defendants could face up to 60 years in prison each

By Tricia Bishop - The Baltimore Sun

March 3, 2010

A Baltimore jury deliberated less than three hours before finding three accused cult members guilty Tuesday of starving a 16-month-old to death because he did not say "amen" before meals.

Marcus Cobbs, 23; Trevia Williams, 22; and her 41-year-old mother, Toni Sloan - who claims God renamed her "Queen Antoinette" - each faces a maximum of 60 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled May 18.

The verdicts brought a swift end to a case that captured national attention.

The defendants represented themselves in the weeklong trial, and witnesses told stories of strict religious rules, fears about demonic possession and the attempted resurrection of a toddler named Javon Thompson.

But nothing - not even "justice in this case" - will bring Javon back, his grandmother, Seeta Newton, said Tuesday on the courthouse steps, a photo of Javon pinned to her collar. "I wish I could just hold Javon and hug him."

The boy's mummified remains were discovered in April 2008, about 15 months after he died in a Baltimore apartment. His body was shrouded in sheets and packed away among mothballs and dryer cloths inside a green suitcase that was left in a Pennsylvania shed.

It was part of an odd cover-up, prosecutors said, that also involved committing a woman to a mental facility and leading the boy's mother to believe she could bring her dead child back through faith, all under the direction of "the Queen," whose weapon was the "fear of eternal damnation."

"There is a reason she calls herself Queen Antoinette," Baltimore City Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake, chief of the felony family violence division, said during closing arguments Tuesday. "Queens give orders, and she expected to be obeyed."

Antoinette's former lover, Steven Bynum, described her as a bright, chatty woman who gave good business advice. He helped her financially and found her a place to live soon after they met in Baltimore in 2004. By 2005, he had also helped her establish a business, at least on paper, called "1 Mind Ministries."

In a letter trying to establish nonprofit status for the organization, Antoinette described herself as "a chosen daughter of the most high God" and a "Queen of Jesus Christ," Drake said in court.

The mother of four ran her household with a strict set of rules developed from her interpretations of the Bible. Members were to wear certain colors - tan, white or blue - travel in pairs and home-school the youngest children. Those who couldn't abide by the rules couldn't stay.

In early 2006, her daughter, Williams - known as "Princess" Trevia - became friends with several troubled young Baltimore women and apparently invited them to live in her home, so long as they abided by Antoinette's rules.

Sisters Danielle and Tiffany Smith, who had a young son named Christian, moved in, followed by Christian's father, Marcus Cobbs.

Ria Ramkissoon, now 23, and her son, Javon, came in April of that year. Ramkissoon had converted to Christianity from Hinduism in middle school, and she wanted to practice a religious life, as well as spend more time with her son. She also wanted to leave her mother's house, where she didn't get along with her stepfather.

"I didn't want [any of] them there," Antoinette said during her closing arguments, but, she added, "I felt as though I was supposed to help because they came to me."

Things were peaceful in the house for a time, and there was no physical violence, witnesses said, though Antoinette could have a sharp tongue.

But Tiffany Smith caused trouble and was put out for not following the rules.

Then, in late 2006 or early 2007, Javon stopped playfully repeating his version of the word "amen" when his mother cued him after prayer, Ramkissoon said. That's when Antoinette said he shouldn't eat until he complied, a punishment meant to rid him of a "spirit of rebellion." Ramkissoon took the term literally and believed her son was demonically possessed.

Days passed.

"His skin discolored, his eyes sunk in, his lips got chapped," Assistant State's Attorney Patricia McLane told the jury during her closing arguments Tuesday.

Witnesses testified that Javon moaned and grew thinner. He spat up a mysterious black fluid and lost the energy even to crawl. And no one did anything to help him. Cobbs tried early on but changed his mind after a conversation with Antoinette, witnesses said. And Williams allegedly took physical control of the boy, at least at night while the group slept.

"Nobody did anything," Drake said. "That's the basis of the crime."

After Javon died, Antoinette blamed Ramkissoon, saying she was a bad mother. Antoinette told her to nurture him back to life and condemned her when she couldn't, witnesses said.

Ramkissoon continued to care for the dead boy for weeks, singing to him and reading him stories. After nearly being found out by their landlord, the group packed up and moved, bringing Javon's body with them.

They abandoned the corpse, in its suitcase, in Pennsylvania and moved to New York City, where Cobbs had Danielle Smith committed to keep her from confessing to neighbors, according to testimony. She eventually convinced a social worker that her story was true, and the scheme began to unravel. Members of the group were arrested in August 2008.

During closing arguments Tuesday, Antoinette said she had rules but never forced compliance. She complained of the media attention and the prosecution's allegations.

Deliberations began shortly before 1 p.m., and a verdict was returned by 4 p.m., leaving two hours of consideration after accounting for the lunch break. Jurors found the defendants guilty of first-degree child abuse resulting in death and second-degree murder. Cobbs was also convicted of being an accessory after the fact for participating in the cover-up: He measured Javon's body for the suitcase and burned the boy's bed.

A first-degree murder charge against Antoinette was dropped Monday by Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory, prosecutors said. Doory did not immediately return a message seeking clarification.

The defendants kept stony faces as their fate was announced, after Doory's directions to show no emotion. The judge also ordered medical evaluations and background reports for the defendants in preparation for sentencing. The women had earlier refused certain psychological evaluations.

Drake said she was "relieved by the verdict," though she bristled at the idea that Antoinette felt victimized. The only victims here were Javon and his grandmother, Drake said.

Newton stood beside her, a picture of her daughter - Javon's mother - in her pocket. Ramkissoon is about 10 in the photo, a lovely young girl with clear eyes.

Ramkissoon has pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and is awaiting sentencing, which is expected to be a 20-year suspended term and some kind of residential counseling. She's quiet now, and withdrawn, not the vibrant daughter Newton remembers.

And she still believes her son will come back to life if she has faith enough.

"It's going to take years for Ria to get back to the child I know," Newton said. "It's going to be a long, long time."


Mother says she agreed to starve son to rid him of demonic spirit

Testifying against alleged cult members, woman also believes boy will be resurrected

By Tricia Bishop - The Baltimore Sun

February 24, 2010

The mother of a dead child testified Wednesday that she agreed to starve her toddler son, who refused to say "amen," to rid him of a demonic spirit that was potentially placed there when her own mother offered the boy up to the devil.

Ria Ramkissoon, 23, also said she has faith that God will resurrect her son, Javon Thompson, and she's not afraid to say so, even if it makes her sound crazy.

"I don't have a problem with sounding crazy in court," she said bluntly, as former acquaintances poked each other in the audience and rolled their eyes.

Ramkissoon has pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, and expects to receive a 20-year suspended sentence, along with inpatient counseling and five years of probation. Her official sentencing has been repeatedly postponed in anticipation of her testimony Wednesday against three other defendants who are accused of running a religious cult and are charged with murder in 16-month-old Javon's death.

On trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court are accused cult leader Queen Antoinette, 41, her daughter, Trevia Williams, 22, and Marcus Cobbs, 23. Antoinette was developing a religious organization called 1 Mind Ministries and had plans to open a shelter for kids, according to testimony. She ran a religious household that required its members to read the Bible, travel outside in pairs for safety and wear certain colors, namely blue, white and khaki, witnesses have said.

Ramkissoon learned about the house through a childhood friend, who said she could live there and spend more time with her son. At the time, Ramkissoon felt the boy was bonding more with her mother, his grandmother, than with her because she was in community college and away for much of the day.

She also said she was uncomfortable at home, where she lived with her younger brother, her mother, Seeta Newton, and her stepfather, with whom she had a "difficult" relationship.

When a juror asked Ramkissoon, via a note handed to the judge, why she trusted strangers with her infant child over her mother, she said simply: "If you think your son is being offered to the devil by your mother, who you go to?"

Ramkissoon, who converted from Hinduism to Christianity in middle school, said she found her mother and stepfather holding the boy up to the sun one evening. They "said they were showing him God's creation," she testified, but she believed they were "offering him up to the devil."

The boy later died while living in Antoinette's household because she allegedly ordered that he be deprived of food until he said "amen" after prayers.

In an interview after the morning testimony, Ramkissoon's mother said she never offered her grandchild to the devil and "wasn't even holding him" that evening. She said she hopes her daughter, who sounded lucid and confident on the stand, gets counseling.

"She comes and goes. Her mood comes and goes. She's confused sometimes. ... But altogether, she's a very smart girl," Newton said.


Mother of Starved Child Set to Be Released

The Washington Post

August 11, 2009

A woman who pleaded guilty to starving her toddler son to death while part of a religious cult will be released from the Baltimore jail within a matter of weeks or even days, her attorney said Tuesday.

Ria Ramkissoon, 22, will be enrolled in a counseling program on a farm in rural northeast Maryland, according to attorneys on both sides. The program, which has no fences or guards, was chosen for her by a city prosecutor who arranges alternative sentencing options.

"It's not a correctional facility. It's a place for her to get re-acclimated. She'll be part of a community and have a job and responsibilities," said Steven D. Silverman, Ramkissoon's attorney. "She's very excited about the opportunity to do something positive."

Ramkissoon pleaded guilty in March to child abuse resulting in death. Authorities said she was part of a cult that denied food and water to one-year-old Javon Thompson because the boy did not say "Amen" after meals.

After the boy died, the cult leader, Queen Antoinette, told her followers to pray for his resurrection, according to police and prosecutors. The cult members ultimately placed Javon's body in a suitcase and hid it behind a house in Philadelphia, where police found it in 2008, more than a year after his death, authorities said.

Silverman has argued that Ramkissoon was brainwashed by the cult and was not responsible for her son's death. Her plea deal includes a provision that would allow her to withdraw the plea if Javon is resurrected.

Ramkissoon was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, but the sentencing was delayed until November because the other four cult members have yet to go on trial. She agreed to testify against them as part of her plea deal.

The agreement calls for Ramkissoon to receive a 20-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. The maximum sentence for child abuse resulting in death is 30 years, and defendants typically receive between 12 and 20 years, according to Maryland sentencing guidelines.

But prosecutors have shown little zeal in pursuing punishment for Ramkissoon, a native of Trinidad with no previous criminal history. Her mother has said she was naive and easily influenced when she was recruited into the cult as an unwed teenage mother.

Ramkissoon has received no mental health counseling while in the city jail, and the program will allow her to get the help she needs, Silverman said. She will remain there as long as counselors deem it necessary, he said.

The other four cult members Antoinette, 41; Trevia Williams, 21; Marcus A. Cobbs, 22; and Steven L. Bynum, 43 are scheduled for trial in October on charges including first-degree murder. Antoinette and Williams have not retained lawyers and plan to represent themselves.


In Plea Deal, Mother to Testify Against Cult, Go Free if Son Rises From Dead

By Dan Morse - The Washington Times

March 31, 2009

Accepting a plea bargain that her attorney described as unprecedented in American jurisprudence, a 22-year-old Maryland woman yesterday agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other defendants in the death of her son under the condition that charges against her be dropped if the child rises from the dead.

"It also is specifically noted," Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Timothy Doory said in court as he described the plea bargain to the boy's mother, "that if the victim in this case, Javon Thompson, is resurrected, as you still hold some hope he will be, you may withdraw the plea, and the charges will be nolle prossed [withdrawn] against you."

The boy's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, is shaping up as prosecutors' star witness against a 40-year-old Baltimore woman named Queen Antoinette. Prosecutors allege that Queen Antoinette led a small cult, called One Mind Ministries, based in a West Baltimore rowhouse. In early 2007, prosecutors say, Queen Antoinette instructed Ramkissoon and others to deprive Javon of food and water because he didn't say "amen" before breakfast.

Queen Antoinette has been charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death, as have three of her alleged followers. Any trial is expected to be at least two months away.

In yesterday's hearing, prosecutors said they would drop murder charges against Ramkissoon. She pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death. If she testifies truthfully against the other defendants, according to yesterday's agreement, prosecutors will recommend that she be released from jail, placed on probation, and provided treatment that could include "a process of deprogramming."

A spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said that in recent weeks, as prosecutors and Ramkissoon's attorney discussed the plea bargain, prosecutors made it clear that Ramkissoon could not get out of her obligations if she asserted that Javon came back as anything other than himself.

"This would need to be a Jesus-like resurrection," Margaret Burns, the spokeswoman, said after the hearing. "It cannot be a reincarnation in another object or animal."

Ramkissoon, listed in court records as five feet tall and 100 pounds, was led into court wearing jeans, a bright yellow shirt, leg chains and handcuffs.

She displayed little emotion, walking past friends and relatives without appearing to make any prolonged eye contact. Her mother sobbed in her seat, both before the plea and while prosecutors read aloud the facts as they see them.

Prosecutors said Queen Antoinette concluded that Javon had developed a "spirit of rebellion" and should not be given food or water for at least two days. Fearing that his mother, Ramkissoon, might "break down and feed the child," Queen Antoinette ordered that the child be given to another group member, prosecutors alleged yesterday.

After Javon died, he was placed on a couch while everyone knelt down and prayed. Ramkissoon also danced around her son, prosecutors said. The boy's body was later moved to a back room.

At one point, two members measured Jason's body and bought a suitcase. Members believed that if the body could travel with them, it could be resurrected at a later date, said Steven Silverman, Ramkissoon's attorney. The group members left the suitcase with a man they had befriended. Police eventually discovered it in his shed in Philadelphia.

Also during yesterday's hearing, Queen Antoinette and another defendant, Trevia Williams, indicated that they had attorneys but didn't say who they are. Queen Antoinette said little during the hearing. She talked quietly with courtroom security officials during breaks.



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