Baltimore - A man accused of starving a 1-year-old boy to death while part of a religious cult has fired his attorney and will represent himself at trial, alongside two other cult members who also don't have lawyers.
Marcus A. Cobbs, 23, told a judge during jury selection Wednesday that he wanted to fire his public defender, Maureen Rowland. Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory asked him a series of questions before allowing him to dismiss her.
Cobbs then took a seat at the defense table next to two other members of the now-defunct cult called 1 Mind Ministries: Queen Antoinette, 41, and her daughter, Trevia Williams, 22. Antoinette and Williams have not had lawyers since their arrests.
The three are accused of denying food and water to toddler Javon Thompson on Antoinette's orders because he did not say "Amen" after meals. After the boy died in January 2007, authorities say, the cult members spent several days praying for his resurrection, then stuffed his body in a suitcase and brought it to Philadelphia, where it remained hidden for more than a year.
Javon's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, was also part of the cult and pleaded guilty to a charge of child abuse resulting in death. She is expected to be released from jail after testifying against Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs.
Members of the cult wore all white, shunned medical care and referred to each other with titles including queen and princess, according to court documents.
Rowland said in a telephone interview Thursday that she was upset by Cobbs' decision and took it as a sign that Antoinette, the cult's leader, still has strong influence over her former client.
"I think he didn't like that I was having a negative attitude toward Queen and Trevia. I think that Queen made him feel that my presence in the case was going to obstruct their overall plan, which is God knows what — literally, God knows what," Rowland said.
Rowland attempted last year to put together a plea deal for Cobbs, but it fell through. She said Thursday that Cobbs never would have accepted the plea deal and that he only considered it during what he called "a weak moment."
Jury selection in the case will continue Monday. Dozens of potential jurors were dismissed Wednesday because they were familiar with the case or because they said they could not be impartial about the death of such a young child, said Joseph Sviatko, a spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office.
Rowland said her former client and the two women don't know what they are up against and are ill-equipped to defend themselves. Antoinette faces a first-degree murder charge, while Cobbs and Williams are being tried for second-degree murder.
"They think that God's going to pull them out of this," Rowland said.
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