Guilty plea in starvation of infant

March 31, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,

A 22-year-old woman accused of starving her infant son to death pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to one count of child abuse resulting in death and will be released from jail in exchange for her cooperation against her co-defendants, who prosecutors say are fellow members of a cult called 1 Mind Ministries.

The unusual plea agreement also includes a "process of deprogramming" for Ria Ramkissoon and the promise that charges will be dropped if 2-year-old Javon Thompson is resurrected. Ramkissoon's attorney said his client insisted on the clause, which he believes is a first in American legal history, because she still holds out hope that her son will be brought back to life.

Prosecutors say the five suspects belonged to a small group of adults and children whose leader, Queen Antoinette, is accused of ordering members in January 2007 to withhold food and water from Javon. She believed he was a demon because he did not say "Amen" after he was fed, according to a statement of facts read by prosecutors.

After he died, Antoinette laid Javon's body on a couch, and the others knelt and prayed while Ramkissoon danced around the body, Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake said. The group carried his remains in a green suitcase when they later moved to Philadelphia.

"Queen Antoinette asked the group, 'Do you believe he can be raised?' " Drake said. "Everyone said yes. She told them if everyone believed and had enough faith, Javon could be raised. So the defendant sat by the decomposing body and prayed for his resurrection."

Ramkissoon received a 20-year prison sentence, with all but time served suspended, followed by five years of probation, if she testifies against other members of the group. Defense attorney Steven D. Silverman said Ramkissoon is still brainwashed by the cult and will undergo two eight-hour sessions of "deprogramming" with a cult expert after she is released. She looked away from her mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, as she was led out of the courtroom.

"Ria does not to this day believe she was victimized by a cult," Silverman said. "She believes that the child will be resurrected, and that if she gives up hope of that happening, it would call decisions she's made in the past into question."

He said his client is "just as much of a victim as her son."

Prosecutors said the resurrection clause of the agreement stipulates a "Jesus-like resurrection, which is distinguished from a reincarnation" as an animal or object.

Javon's paternal grandmother sobbed during the hearing and said she was outraged that Ramkissoon will be freed if she testifies.

"[If] you take a life, you're supposed to get a life taken from you," Geraldine Ridgely said outside the courthouse. "This is a serious crime. This is a baby - he didn't ask to come into this world."

Antoinette, 40, and three others - Trevia Williams, 21, Marcus Cobbs, 22, and Steven Bynum, 42 - were set to go to trial yesterday but the case was postponed because Antoinette and Williams did not have legal counsel. They have repeatedly refused representation by the public defender's office, and Antoinette claimed Monday to have reached an agreement with an attorney whose name she could not remember.

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