BALTIMORE (AP) — The leader of a household described as a religious cult was convicted of second-degree murder Tuesday along with two of her followers for starving a 1-year-old boy to death because he did not say "Amen" during a mealtime prayer.
Jurors also convicted Queen Antoinette, her daughter Trevia Williams and Marcus A. Cobbs of child abuse resulting in death. Cobbs was also found guilty of accessory after the fact for helping to cover up the death of Javon Thompson.
The defendants each face up to 60 years in prison when they are sentenced May 18.
They showed no emotion as the verdict was read, a contrast to their laughter and astonishment during prosecutors' closing arguments. The trial lasted six days, and jurors deliberated for about three hours.
Javon's mother, Trinidad-born Ria Ramkissoon, testified that Antoinette said Javon had "a spirit of rebellion" inside him and that denying him food would cure him. She said she believed Antoinette's claim about the evil spirit.
Javon died in either December 2006 or January 2007. He was about 16 months old, and it's not clear whether he was ever capable of saying "Amen." Ramkissoon testified that he had said it before, but another household member said the boy most likely made a sound that resembled "Amen."
No one in the eight-person household did anything to prevent Javon from wasting away, according to testimony. His heart stopped beating after a week or more without food, his mother testified.
After Javon died, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection and ordered Ramkissoon to "nurture him back to life," according to witnesses.
Ramkissoon said she stayed with Javon's body for weeks, talking to him, dancing for him, even trying to give him water. Ultimately, according to testimony, the group members stashed Javon's body in a suitcase and relocated to Philadelphia, where they stayed briefly with an elderly man. The suitcase was stored in a shed behind the man's home for more than a year.
Ramkissoon, 23, pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in death. Her plea deal included an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the conviction will be thrown out. Prosecutors said only a "Jesus-like resurrection" would suffice.
Ramkissoon will soon be released from jail and placed in a residential treatment program, prosecutors said.
"It's going to take years for Ria to get back to the child that I know," said Ramkissoon's mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton.
Antoinette, 41, Williams, 22, and Cobbs, 23, represented themselves at trial. They did not testify or call any witnesses. Antoinette introduced a single piece of evidence: a copy of a handwritten application for nonprofit status for her organization, 1 Mind Ministries. In that document, she described herself "as a chosen daughter of the most high God and a queen of Jesus Christ."
In their closing arguments, Antoinette and Cobbs accused prosecutors and the media of conspiring to condemn them.
"We've been like pariahs," Antoinette said. "These people want to blame someone for this child's death, so they've chosen us."
Witnesses said Antoinette claimed to speak to God and ran a tightly controlled household. Among the rules were that the group dressed in only white, blue and khaki and they left the house only in pairs. They destroyed identification documents, cut off contact with relatives and were encouraged to smoke marijuana, which Antoinette called "God's weed."
"She's a very convincing manipulator," said Tiffany Smith, who lived with Antoinette before Javon died and testified that she was forced to give birth without medical care. "The jury saw through that."
Even Antoinette's name, she said, was given to her by God. Although she was arrested and charged under the name Queen Antoinette, prosecutors said her real name is Toni Sloan.
Williams was referred to as "Princess Trevia," and Cobbs was "Prince Marcus." Ramkissoon was known as "Princess Marie."
When Javon died, the household also included Antoinette's three other children and Tiffany Smith's older sister, Danielle. She testified that Cobbs had her committed to a psychiatric hospital in New York after she began telling outsiders about Javon's death. Danielle Smith ultimately led police to his body.
Ramkissoon's attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said he was relieved with the verdict.
"I was fearful that the jury might consider her the most culpable, since she is the custodian of the child," Silverman said. "But fortunately, they were able to see clearly that the Queen was in control of the situation."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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