Witness: Accused cult leaders had her committed to keep quiet

Woman told N.Y. agency of boy's starvation, leading to group's arrest

February 26, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

A woman who once lived with three people accused of leading a cult testified Thursday that they committed her to a mental hospital to keep her quiet about a toddler's starvation death.

Danielle Smith, 26, said she tried to alert neighbors to the boy's death but couldn't because she was not left alone with outsiders.

The three defendants - Toni Sloan, who's known in court as Queen Antoinette, 41; her daughter, Trevia Williams, 22; and acquaintance Marcus Cobbs, 23 - have pleaded not guilty to murder charges. They're accused of depriving Javon Thompson of food after the 16-month-old, who could barely talk, refused to say "amen" and are representing themselves in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Smith said she left a vague hint of the child's death scrawled across one wall - the sentence "We love our children" - before the group put her out of its New York City apartment, where it had moved after Javon died in Baltimore. A day later, the group escorted her to the psychiatric ward of Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"The people at the hospital thought I was crazy," Smith said. She was there a month, yet she was able to tell her story to police and a caseworker at a New York child protective agency, leading to the group's arrest. Smith was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after she left the hospital.

Like everyone else in the household, Smith did nothing to save Javon while he was dying. She testified that the front door of their shared Baltimore apartment was locked and that she didn't think she could escape with the boy out the back door.

"I actually worried most about what Queen Antoinette would do," Smith said.

Smith and her sister, who testified earlier this week, moved in with Antoinette and her four children in early 2006, after Williams befriended Smith. The sisters said in court that Antoinette turned them against their own families, who didn't properly follow the Bible, and called their mother a "witch."

Cobbs, who has a child with Smith's sister, moved in about a month later. Another young woman who was friends with the Smiths, Ria Ramkissoon, followed in April of that year with her infant, Javon.

"Queen Antoinette made people believe that [living with her] would be a better situation for you," Smith said Thursday.

Antoinette ran her household with a strict set of rules that allowed children to fast and use marijuana, but prevented anyone from wearing colors other than tan, blue or white. She justified her decisions through various Scripture readings.

Antoinette did not have "to abide by certain laws of the land," Smith testified, because the leader, who had christened herself "Queen," was beholden only to God.

"She just said that God spoke to her and told her how to live in her household," Smith said.

When Javon wouldn't repeat the word "amen" after Ramkissoon one day, Antoinette declared the boy rebellious and said he shouldn't eat until he complied, according to testimony. He died after days of deprivation.

The group prayed for his resurrection and eventually packed his body in a forest-green suitcase, which it took to Philadelphia, where the group had planned to move. The household left it in a shed when it moved again to New York City, where the defendants were arrested in Javon's death in 2008. Testimony resumes Monday.

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