Accused Cultists Ask To Defend Themselves

July 15, 2009|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,

The trial of four people accused of being members of an abusive cult was delayed again Tuesday after the leader and a follower chose to defend themselves against charges that they starved 2-year-old Javon Thompson to death.

The murder trial has been postponed several times because Queen Antoinette, 40, and Trevia Williams, 21, said they had a lawyer when, in fact, they did not, or said they were going to hire a lawyer and never did. Prosecutors Julie Drake and Patricia McLane had attempted to have Antoinette, the leader of the defunct 1 Mind Ministries, and Williams psychologically evaluated for a possible insanity defense, but the two defendants refused to cooperate.

"It's going to be difficult and complicated," attorney Catherine Flynn, who is representing a man accused of being in the cult, said of the murder trial. "Obviously, these women don't have the education regarding the process, and they're not going to have the sophistication to raise objections."

Antoinette at first told Baltimore Circuit Judge John Addison Howard that she wanted to hire a public defender and would make the request as soon as the hearing was finished. But after Williams almost whispered to the judge that she wanted to "be on her own," Antoinette changed her mind.

Public defender Anne-Marie Gering quietly tried to explain to both women the benefits of having a lawyer, but the women again refused help.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the gallery shook their heads in dismay at the decision and a few buried their faces in their hands. Both women told Howard that they had only a high school education.

Prosecutors have accused Antoinette of leading the small group in the starvation of Javon because he refused to say "Amen" after meals. After his death, Antoinette is accused of preaching to members to pray for his resurrection, which Javon's mother apparently believes is possible.

In March, she pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death only on the condition that her admission would be undone if Javon returned from the grave.

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