Closing arguments expected Tuesday in baby's starvation

March 01, 2010|By Tricia Bishop | tricia.bishop@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

Closing arguments are expected Tuesday in the Baltimore trial of three alleged cult members accused of starving a toddler to death because he didn't pray properly.

The defendants, who are representing themselves, rested their cases within minutes Monday without calling any witnesses. They face decades in prison if convicted.

All are charged with child abuse resulting in death, which carries a maximum 30-year penalty, for depriving 16-month-old Javon Thompson of food and water. Prosecutors say the punishment began because the boy refused to say "amen."

Defendant Toni Sloan, who goes by the name "Queen Antoinette," 41, is also charged with first-degree murder, which is punishable by life in prison. She's accused of ordering the starvation. Her daughter "Princess" Trevia Williams, 22, and their friend Marcus Cobbs, 23, are charged with second-degree murder, which has a maximum sentence of 30 years, because they allegedly did nothing to help the boy as he withered.

Prosecutors claim the defendants led a religious cult focused on Antoinette, who set the house rules and determined who could stay or go in her home, which she shared with her four children, including Williams. The family eventually took in several young women, two of whom brought babies with them, and a third got pregnant there by Antoinette's teen-aged son. Cobbs, who had a baby with one of the women, also moved in.

The women testified that they lived rent-free and had to follow various rules, such as regularly reading the Bible and wearing only certain colors: tan, blue or white. As time passed, they said, they were cut off from their families.

Ria Ramkissoon, Javon's mother, said she joined the household in 2006 because her own home life was "difficult." Now 23, she said she didn't like the way her mother was interacting with Javon and she didn't get along with her stepfather. Ramkissoon has already pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death in her son's starvation and is awaiting sentencing.

In cross-examination of the state's witnesses, the defendants have suggested they lived a disciplined, religious life, but denied that they were a cult.

On Monday, the state called two witnesses before resting its case: a Baltimore police lab director who identified the child's mummified remains and a medical examiner who testified that the boy was killed by "unspecified means," likely suffocation or food and water deprivation.

"A child of this age doesn't generally die a natural death," he testified.

The boy's body was discovered in a Philadelphia shed, carefully packed inside a green suitcase that prosecutors say the group took along when they moved from Baltimore. Members had prayed repeatedly to resurrect the body.

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