BALTIMORE — A former member of a defunct religious cult has backed out of a plea deal and will face trial on charges he and others starved a toddler to death.
Marcus Cobbs had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of accessory after the fact. But his attorney abruptly withdrew the plea Friday morning after a dispute with prosecutors over the conditions of his release.
Cobbs will now face trial along with three other members of the cult on murder and child abuse charges in the death of 1-year-old Javon Thompson.
According to a statement read in court, Cobbs helped the cult members cover up Javon's death by destroying evidence and stuffing the toddler's body in a suitcase.
Cobbs would have received a five-year suspended sentence under the plea deal.
... Marcus Cobbs, one of the four cult members charged in the toddler's death, had just entered a guilty plea to accessory after the fact. In return, no prison time, an outrage to Javon's grandmother. Under the plea deal, Cobbs agreed to testify against cult leader Queen Antoinette, that she ordered the boy be starved.
Also that the child's mother Ria Ramkissoon followed those orders, and her son died; that the body was kept propped up in a Baltimore home awaiting resurrection, and that Cobbs packed the boy's body in a suitcase and later helped hide it in a storage shed in Philadelphia.
Cobbs' attorney abruptly withdrew the plea Friday morning after a dispute with prosecutors over the conditions of his release. Cobbs now faces trial along with three other members of the cult on murder and child abuse charges in the death of 1-year-old Javon.
Prosecutors still have Ramkissoon. She's plead guilty and is expected to testify against the cult -- provided Queen Antoinette's hold over her has been broken.
Trial for the four cult members is set to begin January 27.
Circumstances of the Baby's Death
The remains of a toddler were found inside a suitcase inside this shed in South Philadelphia in April of this year.
Ria Ramkissoon, the mother of Javon Thompson, was charged Sunday with first-degree murder in the boy's death, and Baltimore police said Monday that three other members of a group called 1 Mind Ministries have also been charged with first-degree murder. Police and Ramkissoon's family say the group is a cult.
Members did not seek medical care for Javon when he stopped breathing, and the boy died in his mother's arms, according to court documents that described police interviews with a confidential informant and two children.
He would have been about 15 months old when police say adults stopped feeding him in December 2006.
Ramkissoon, 21, was being held Monday in the psychiatric ward of Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center, and a bail review was postponed until Tuesday. Her public defender declined comment.
The three other people charged in Javon's death -- Queen Antoinette, 40, also known as Toni Ellsberry or Toni Sloan; Marcus Cobbs, 21; and Trevia Williams, who turns 21 Tuesday -- were already in custody.
They were arrested in May in New York City on warrants charging them with failure to appear in court in Baltimore. Those charges stemmed from a scuffle with police in a child custody dispute.
No one answered the phone Monday afternoon in the office of a public defender assigned to Antoinette, Cobbs and Williams.
A fifth alleged cult member, Steven Bynum, has been charged in a warrant with first-degree murder and remains at large, police said Monday. He was believed to be in New York.
Ramkissoon's family said she should not be held responsible for her son's death.
"She had no control over that situation at all," her stepfather, Craig Newton, said Monday.
Ramkissoon's mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, told The (Baltimore) Sun on Sunday that it wasn't her daughter's decision not to feed the boy.
"My daughter was a victim, just like my grandson," Khadan-Newton said. "Somebody made that decision to not feed that child, and my daughter had to follow instructions."
Members of 1 Mind Ministries wore all white, swore off medical care and referred to some members with titles including queen and princess, according to court documents. The group was also accused of insisting that a pregnant woman give birth without access to doctors.
Ramkissoon joined 1 Mind Ministries after Javon was born. Ramkissoon's mother last saw her in April 2006; she later sued for custody of her grandson, writing in a letter to a judge that "the cult leaders" were preventing her from contacting her daughter. The documents show police interviewed two school-age children who had been part of the group but were taken away from members by Philadelphia police. The children told investigators that members stopped feeding Javon in December 2006, in part because the boy refused to say "amen" after dinner.
Members also viewed Javon as "a demon."
Another unnamed informant told police that after Javon died, Antoinette left the boy's body in a room for more than a week, claiming "God was going to raise Javon from the dead," the documents show.
Afterward, Antoinette burned the boy's clothing and a mattress and placed his body in a green suitcase, which she would periodically open and spray with disinfectant to mask the odor, police claim in the court documents.
In early 2007, the group members left Baltimore for Philadelphia. They left the green suitcase and other luggage inside a shed belonging to a man they befriended while there, police said, and then relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y.
Police recovered the suitcase in April after they got a tip from the confidential informant. The remains of a small child were inside. DNA tests are pending to confirm the boy's identity.