Prosecutors: Boy starved to death at cult's hands

The Associated Press/February 22, 2010

Baltimore - The leader of a religious cult was "outraged" when a 1-year-old boy did not say "Amen" before a meal and ordered her followers to deprive him of food and water until he died, a Baltimore prosecutor told jurors Monday.

Three members of the now-defunct cult known as 1 Mind Ministries are on trial for murder in the death of Javon Thompson, who was around 16 months old when he died of starvation and dehydration in either December 2006 or January 2007, according to authorities.

After the boy died, the cult members prayed for his resurrection, then destroyed all evidence of his death and stuffed his body in a suitcase, which they hid in a shed behind a home in Philadelphia, Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake told jurors.

The cult members - Queen Antoinette, 41; her daughter, Trevia Williams, 22; and Marcus A. Cobbs, 23 - are representing themselves at trial. Antoinette declined to make an opening statement, while Williams and Cobbs spoke briefly; Williams in a voice so quiet that jurors, prosecutors and the judge strained to hear her.

Williams suggested the prosecution's theory of the case was flawed. "Pay attention to details," she said.

Cobbs pledged that "when the truth comes out," jurors would realize the defendants are not guilty. "The truth shall set you free," he said.

The jury of seven men and five women listened intently as Drake recounted how Javon's mother, Ria Ramkissoon, was recruited into the cult and did nothing to stop her son from wasting away, even though she was "distraught" over his slow and agonizing death.

Ramkissoon pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in death and plans to testify against Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs. At her insistence, the plea deal included an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the plea will be vacated.

Ramkissoon, then a teenage single mother, joined the cult because she wanted to become a Christian and was told she wouldn't have to work or go to school, Drake said.

The cult members lived together in a small apartment and were forced to abide by an increasingly strict set of rules, and Antoinette was "leery" of Javon, Drake said.

"If she perceived a rebellious spirit in someone, she would characterize it as demonic," Drake said.

The cult members "did everything they could think of" to make Javon say "Amen" before Antoinette ordered them not to feed him until he did, Drake said. She later took the boy away from his mother and placed him in Williams' care, the prosecutor said.

"In full view of every member of that household, Javon wasted away," Drake said. "If this little boy had ever had the capacity to say 'Amen,' he surely lost it. He could not say anything."

Ramkissoon prayed for days for Javon to be resurrected, and Antoinette "told her it was her fault" the boy did not come back to life, Drake said.

Prosecutors are seeking a first-degree murder conviction for Antoinette - also known as Toni Sloan - and second-degree murder convictions for Williams and Cobbs.

Antoinette smiled and scoffed throughout Drake's opening statement, at one point laughing out loud. Cobbs occasionally smiled and shook his head.

Williams had little reaction. After announcing that she wanted to make an opening statement, she stood silently for more than a minute before beginning to speak. Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory asked her twice to speak louder, but she did not raise her voice either time. At least one juror beckoned for her to move closer to the panel, which she did.

Williams and Cobbs acknowledged that the state's witnesses would present testimony consistent with Drake's opening statement, and neither indicated that they planned to call their own witnesses.

"I'm sure the testimony will all collaborate, seeing as how the defendants have all been in jail for 21 months," Williams said.

She specifically disputed the assertion that the cult members brought the suitcase with Javon's body to a Red Roof Inn outside Philadelphia.

"How a dead body was taken to a hotel and not noticed, I don't know," Williams said.

The jury was seated after a selection process that took up parts of two days. More than 150 potential jurors were brought in, and many said they could not be impartial because of the age of the victim.

Two jurors were struck and replaced by alternates before opening statements began. One of those could be heard telling Judge Doory he had read media coverage of the case after he was called in last Wednesday as a potential juror.

The dismissals left the jury with just one alternate, meaning a mistrial would be declared if two more jurors are struck.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.