Plea deal rejected in child's death

Religious cult figure to stand trial in starvation of toddler

Associated Press/October 31, 2009

A former member of a religious cult backed out of a plea deal Friday and will face trial on charges that he and others starved a toddler to death because the boy refused to say "Amen" after meals.

Marcus A. Cobbs, 22, had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of accessory after the fact. But his attorney abruptly withdrew the plea after a dispute with prosecutors over the conditions of his release.

Cobbs will now face trial in January along with three other members of the now-defunct cult known as 1 Mind Ministries. All four face charges of murder and child abuse in the January 2007 death of 1-year-old Javon Thompson and could face life in prison if convicted.

Had Cobbs pleaded guilty, he would not have admitted any role in starving the child. But he did help the cult members cover up Javon's death, according to a statement of facts read in court to support his guilty plea.

He burned a mattress where the boy's body had lain for several days while the cult members prayed for his resurrection, according to the statement. He also measured Javon's body, washed it, wrapped it in a blanket and placed it inside a suitcase that he bought, the statement said.

The cult members drove to Philadelphia with the suitcase containing Javon's body, where they hid it in a shed behind a home, according to the statement and other court documents. The suitcase remained there for more than a year before police found it.

Javon's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, was part of the cult and pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death. She is expected to testify against the other members and remains jailed. At the time of her plea in March, she held out hope that Javon would be resurrected, and in an extraordinary arrangement, prosecutors agreed to withdraw her plea if that occurs.

Maureen Rowland, Cobbs' public defender, told the Associated Press she thought her client would receive a five-year suspended sentence and be released from jail immediately after pleading guilty.

"He was only taking it because he wanted to get out of jail," Rowland said. "If he was sitting in jail, it wouldn't be a good deal."

But prosecutors said they never agreed to his immediate release. Their tentative plan was for Cobbs to live with a relative out of state until after the trial of the other three cult members, said Joseph Sviatko, a spokesman for the state's attorney's office.

Attorneys did not bring up their disagreement about the conditions of Cobbs' release until after Baltimore Circuit Judge John Philip Miller accepted the guilty plea.

Clearly exasperated, Miller called the attorneys to the bench for a heated conference, after which Rowland announced that she was withdrawing the plea. Miller agreed to throw it out.

"You didn't have an agreement, it appears," the judge said.

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