Md. mom pleads guilty in cult starvation death
Published - Mar 30 2009 11:48PM EST
By BEN NUCKOLS - Associated Press Writer
(AP Photo/ courtesy of Seeta Khadan-Newton, File)
A February 14, 2006 file photo released by Seeta Khadan-Newton shows Ria Ramkissoon and her son Javon Thompson. Ramkissoon, who who was involved with a group that calls itself 1 Mind Ministries, is going on trial Monday, March 30, 2009 in Baltimore Circuit Court, along with four others also charged in the starving death of Ramkissoon's young son, Javon Thompson in August of 2008.
A former religious cult member pleaded guilty Monday to starving her 1-year-old son to death after making an unusual deal with prosecutors: If the child is resurrected, her plea will be withdrawn. Ria Ramkissoon, 22, also agreed to testify against four other members of the now-defunct religious group known as 1 Mind Ministries. All four are charged with first-degree murder in the death of Javon Thompson.
According to a statement of facts, the cult members stopped feeding the boy when he refused to say "Amen" after a meal. After Javon died, Ramkissoon sat next to his decomposing body and prayed for his resurrection.
Ramkissoon's attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon believes the resurrection will occur. She agreed to plead guilty only after prosecutors said they would drop the charges if the child comes back to life, Silverman said.
"This is something that she absolutely insisted upon, and this is indicative of the fact that she is still brainwashed, still a victim of this cult," he said. "Until she's deprogrammed, she's not going to think any differently."
Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory assured Ramkissoon that the plea would indeed be withdrawn if the child is resurrected.
Ramkissoon pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse resulting in death. She will remain in custody until she testifies against her co-defendants and will receive a suspended 20-year sentence and serve five years probation. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 11. By then, Ramkissoon would have spent about a year behind bars.
As part of her probation, Ramkissoon must submit to treatment, including sessions with an expert on cult behavior.
The maximum sentence for child abuse resulting in death is 30 years, and defendants typically receive between 12 and 20 years, according to Maryland sentencing guidelines.
Ramkissoon will fare much better under the plea deal than if she had pursued an insanity defense, Silverman said. A court psychiatrist found that she was both competent to stand trial and could have been held criminally responsible for Javon's death because she knew the difference between right and wrong.
Silverman could have challenged that finding, and he said prosecutors told him they wouldn't have stood in his way. In a letter to Silverman that outlined the terms of the plea deal, prosecutors said the finding of criminal responsibility was "somewhat surprising."
If Ramkissoon had been found not criminally responsible in court, she would have been committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital. By pleading guilty, she will serve little jail time and still get the treatment she needs, Silverman said.
Ramkissoon's mother and stepfather and Javon's paternal grandmother wept in court as prosecutors described the boy's death. The petite Ramkissoon, a native of Trinidad, was calm, answering the judge's questions in a barely audible voice.
When asked her address, she gave the location of the city jail. Asked later whether she had any other place she called home, she said, "No."
Ramkissoon's mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, said the cult manipulated her daughter into disowning her family.
"We are behind her now. We are in the past," Khadan-Newton said.
Geraldine Ridgley, Javon's paternal grandmother, said Ramkissoon deserves a stiffer punishment.
The boy's father, Robert Thompson, was not in court Monday. Ridgley said he was ill. Thompson was in jail when Javon was born.
After the boy died, the cult members left his body inside the apartment where they lived until it began to decompose, according to police documents and the statement of facts. In early 2007, they stuffed the body inside a suitcase and filled it with mothballs and fabric softener sheets to mask the odor.
The cult members relocated to Philadelphia, where they befriended an elderly man and stored the suitcase in a shed behind his home. It remained there for more than a year before police found it, the documents say.
The judge also ordered the four co-defendants to appear before another judge Tuesday to receive a new trial date. Alleged cult leader Queen Antoinette and ex-members Trevia Williams and Marcus A. Cobbs are being held without bail. Steven L. Bynum is free on his own recognizance.