Starved toddler may have been possessed, mother says at trial

Testimony continues in case of reputed cult

February 25, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

The mother of a dead child testified Wednesday that she followed orders to starve her toddler son, even though it "didn't feel right," to rid him of a demon that she believed her own mother placed there by offering the boy to the devil.

There was a "strong possibility" that he was possessed by an "evil spirit," Ria Ramkissoon, 23, told a Baltimore jury in describing Javon Thompson's last days, which began one morning when he refused to say "amen" after prayer. It was the only word he knew other than "mom."

At the time, Ramkissoon was living in a strict religious household that prosecutors have characterized as a cult. Ramkissoon said the group's leader, known as Queen Antoinette, advised her to "not give [Javon] anything to eat because there was a spirit of rebellion in him."

He was deprived of food for "at least a week," Ramkissoon said. "His body got weaker. He got thinner. His lips got dry." After days, Ramkissoon and another young woman in the home mixed a paste of carrots and dried peas for the boy, but "it was hard for him to swallow." His heart stopped.

Ramkissoon has pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, and expects to receive a 20-year suspended sentence, along with inpatient counseling and five years' probation. Her sentencing has been repeatedly postponed in anticipation of her testimony against three other defendants, including Antoinette, 41, who are charged with murder in Javon's death.

Also on trial are Antoinette's daughter, Trevia Williams, 22, and Marcus Cobbs, 23, both of whom are charged with second-degree murder for allegedly watching Javon waste away and doing nothing. Cobbs at one point wanted to feed the boy, according to testimony. But he never did.

They have all declined lawyers and are representing themselves in the case.

"I still believe that my son is coming back, so I have no problem saying what happened," Ramkissoon said.

"I don't have a problem with sounding crazy in court," said Ramkissoon, who also testified that the group was not a cult.

According to testimony, Antoinette was developing a religious organization called 1 Mind Ministries and had plans to open a shelter for children. She ran a religious household that required its members to read the Bible, travel outside in pairs for safety and wear blue, white and khaki, witnesses have said.

Ramkissoon learned about the house through a childhood friend, who said she could live there and spend more time with her son. At the time, Ramkissoon felt the boy was bonding more with her mother than with her because she was in community college and away for much of the day.

She also said she was uncomfortable at home, where she lived with her younger brother, her mother, Seeta Newton, and her stepfather, with whom she had a "difficult" relationship.

When a juror asked Ramkissoon, via a note handed to the judge, why she trusted strangers with her baby over her mother, she said simply: "If you think your son is being offered to the devil by your mother, who do you go to?"

Ramkissoon, who converted from Hinduism to Christianity in middle school, said she found her mother and stepfather holding the boy up to the sky one evening. They "said they were showing him God's creation," she testified, but she believed they were "offering him up to the devil."

In an interview after the morning testimony, Ramkissoon's mother said she never offered her grandchild to the devil and "wasn't even holding him" that evening. She said she hopes her daughter, who sounded lucid and confident on the stand, gets counseling.

"She comes and goes. Her mood comes and goes. ... But altogether, she's a very smart girl," Newton said.

On the stand, Ramkissoon said she questioned what was going on and had "bad feelings about some things," but "she put those feelings aside" because she believed Antoinette was being instructed by God.

After the boy died, Ramkissoon kept vigil by his body, reading to him and offering him water, before packing his remains in a suitcase with the defendants' help, she said. His remains were eventually discovered in a shed in Philadelphia, where the group had moved.

"Queen told me at some point I had to nurture him back to life," Ramkissoon said.

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