Baltimore - A Baltimore judge praised a young mother for great strides in her treatment after she starved her 1-year-old son to death while part of a religious cult, and the woman's attorney said Wednesday she is breaking free of the belief that her son will be resurrected.
Ria Ramkissoon pleaded guilty to a single count of child abuse resulting in death and received a suspended sentence. Prosecutors agreed to the deal after determining that she had been brainwashed by cult leader Queen Antoinette.
Ramkissoon testified in February that Antoinette ordered her not to feed or give water to her son, Javon Thompson, after the 16-month-old boy did not say "Amen" during a mealtime prayer. Javon starved to death over the course of a week.
Antoinette was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Her daughter, Trevia Williams, and another follower, Marcus A. Cobbs, received 15-year sentences.
After Javon died, Antoinette ordered Ramkissoon and her followers to pray for his resurrection, and Ramkissoon testified in February that she still believed her son would come back to life.
But her faith in the resurrection is fading, according to her attorney, Steven D. Silverman.
"She's come to realize that she was misled," Silverman said.
As part of her deal with prosecutors, Ramkissoon has spent the past 90 days in a faith-based residential treatment center. The purpose of Wednesday's hearing was to let the court know whether the treatment has been effective.
Asked outside the courtroom how she was doing, Ramkissoon said, "blessed. Very blessed."
After conferring with Silverman and prosecutors, Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory said he was impressed with Ramkissoon's progress and ordered her to remain at the treatment center until its operators decide she's ready to leave. She will likely stay there for a year or longer, Silverman said.
"You have made great strides," Doory said. "Everyone is hoping that you're going to make even greater strides in the future, and you're going to be one of our few true success stories."
Ramkissoon, a native of Trinidad, was dressed in a silk top and lavender skirt. She appeared nervous to return to the courtroom where she confronted Antoinette and described her son's death in detail. As attorneys conferred with Doory, she sat alone at the defense table, her leg shaking. She did not address the court. Outside, however, she appeared relaxed, chatting with attorneys and staffers from the treatment center.
The key to her progress, Silverman said, is that she's been able "to relearn the positive interpretation and practice of religion as opposed to what she was taught in the cult."
According to testimony at trial, Antoinette brought troubled young men and women into her household and told them to renounce their possessions and cut off contact with their families and friends. Members were told what to wear, their movements outside the house were restricted, and they shunned medical care - orders that Antoinette said she received directly from God.
After Javon died in December 2006 or January 2007 - a firm date was never established - Ramkissoon spent weeks with his emaciated body. Ultimately, the cult members stuffed the body into a suitcase and hid it in a shed in Philadelphia, where it remained for more than a year before police found it.