THE leader of a religious cult ordered a one-year-old boy to be starved to death because he did not say “Amen” before a meal.
Three members of the now-defunct cult known as 1 Mind Ministries have gone on trial in Baltimore for murdering Javon Thompson, who was about 16 months old when he died of starvation and dehydration three years ago.
After his death, cult members prayed for his resurrection, then destroyed all evidence and stuffed his body in a suitcase, which they hid in a shed behind a home in Philadelphia, assistant state attorney Julie Drake told jurors.
The cult members – leader Queen Antoinette, 41; her daughter, Trevia Williams, 22; and Marcus A Cobbs, 23 – are representing themselves at trial. Antoinette declined to make an opening statement, while Williams and Cobbs spoke briefly.
Williams suggested the prosecution’s theory of the case was flawed. “Pay attention to details,” she said.
Cobbs pledged that “when the truth comes out”, jurors would realise the defendants were not guilty. “The truth shall set you free,” he said.
The jury listened as Ms Drake told how Javon’s mother, Ria Ramkissoon, was recruited into the cult and did nothing to stop her son from wasting away, even though she was “distraught” over his slow, agonising death.
Ramkissoon pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in death and plans to give evidence against Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs. At her insistence, the plea deal included an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the charge will be dropped.
Ramkissoon, then a teenage mother, joined the cult because she wanted to become a Christian and was told she would not have to work or go to school, Ms Drake said.
The cult lived together in a small apartment and were forced to abide by an increasingly strict set of rules, and Antoinette was “leery” of Javon.
“If she perceived a rebellious spirit in someone, she would characterise it as demonic,” Ms Drake said.
The cult members “did everything they could think of” to make Javon say “Amen” before Antoinette ordered them not to feed him until he did. She later took the boy away from his mother and placed him in Williams’ care, the prosecutor said.
“In full view of every member of that household, Javon wasted away,” Ms Drake said. “If this little boy had ever had the capacity to say ‘Amen,’ he surely lost it.”
Ramkissoon prayed for days for Javon to be resurrected, and Antoinette “told her it was her fault” the boy did not come back to life.
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