Another mother testifies in cult trial

Her child also threatened with starvation, she says

February 24, 2010|By Tricia Bishop |

The accused cult leader known as Queen Antoinette, charged with murder in a toddler's starvation death, once tried to prevent another baby from being fed, according to that child's mother, who testified Tuesday that she was manipulated into giving up her maternal duties.

To stay in the religious household run by Queen Antoinette, residents "had to be broken, and you were slightly reprogrammed," said 23-year-old Tiffany Smith. Smith once lived rent-free with several others in the home, which she described as peaceful yet controlling.

Antoinette and two other defendants, all of whom are representing themselves, are charged with orchestrating the death of 16-month-old Javon Thompson by refusing to feed him until he dutifully said "amen."

One man suggested Antoinette, 41, used a sexual relationship to influence him. And Smith revealed that her eldest child, now 4, was fathered by one defendant, while her youngest child, who is 3, was fathered by Antoinette's son.

Many of the details were brought out by the defendants themselves - Antoinette; her daughter, Trevia Williams, 22; and Marcus Cobbs, 23 - on cross-examination. And the already precarious case became even shakier Tuesday when a juror was dismissed for personal reasons. He was the third juror to be let go in two days, which means there are no alternates left to turn to in case of emergency.

The day opened with prosecutors dropping all charges against Antoinette's former lover, 43-year-old Steven Bynum, whom they later put on the stand, where he described paying Antoinette's bills.

Seeta Newton, Javon's 60-year-old grandmother, sank into the witness box and described how her daughter, 23-year-old Ria Ramkissoon, once adored Javon.

"Watching Ria with Javon was like [watching] a kid with a new toy," Newton said. "She would not let anyone come close to him. ... She was very protective of her son."

Ramkissoon also wanted more time with the boy, and Antoinette's household, which included her four children, offered that. Smith said she joined because she received free housing and built-in child care.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time, kind of a stress reliever," Smith said. "I didn't have to do the nasty work that mothers do."

Her child's father, defendant Cobbs, moved in later, though they were no longer a couple. And Smith encouraged Ramkissoon, whom she had known since elementary school, to join them in April 2006.

Newton said she was cut off from contact with her daughter soon after, though she tried to keep tabs on her. Eventually, she received a phone call telling her Javon was dead.

"His remains were in a suitcase," Newton said, dabbing her eyes.

Prosecutors contend that the defendants starved the boy, then carried his remains to Pennsylvania in the hopes they could resurrect him.

Ramkissoon, who is expected to testify in the trial, has pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death.

On the stand Tuesday, Smith said Antoinette ordered starvation for her child because of something "wrong" with Smith's soul, though it didn't appear that the alleged order was ever carried out. And Smith, who became pregnant with her second child by Antoinette's teen-age son while living in their home, acknowledged that she liked the group.

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