A 21-year-old woman accused of staving her toddler to death while a member of a religious cult was ordered held without bail Tuesday, and her attorney suggested that she was not responsible for her son's slaying.
Ria Ramkissoon wore a purple jumpsuit and a blank expression during her appearance Tuesday at the city's booking center, answering only, "Yes," when asked whether she had read the charges against her.
Her attorney, Steven D. Silverman, argued for bail to be set, but District Court Judge Theodore B. Oshrine decided that holding Ramkissoon without bail was appropriate because of the seriousness of the allegations.
"This is not a black-and-white case," Silverman told the judge. "I'm convinced from talking to her that she's been grossly overcharged."
'Bought the program, hook, line and sinker'
Silverman said after the hearing that his client, a petite native of Trinidad who moved to Maryland with her mother at the age of 8 and has no criminal record, was manipulated by cult members.
"She did not in any way initiate or cause the death of her son, and we are going to, I think, have a very easy time proving that," Silverman said. "The members of this cult, who were more than twice her age, were calling the shots. ... She bought the program, hook, line and sinker."
Four other alleged members of the group known as 1 Mind Ministries also face first-degree murder charges in the death of Javon Thompson, who was about 15 months old when he died. Bail reviews for two of them — Queen Antoinette, 40, the alleged cult leader; and Trevia Williams, 21 — were postponed Tuesday.
While Ramkissoon had her bail review, another alleged cult member, Marcus A. Cobbs, was in a family courtroom for a paternity case filed by Tiffany N. Smith, who was identified in court documents as a former member of 1 Mind Ministries.
A judge ruled that Cobbs was the father of one of Smith's children but not the father of another. Smith declined to comment after the hearing.
A bail review has not yet been set for Cobbs, who also faces murder charges in Javon's death. A fifth alleged cult member, Steven Bynum, has been charged in a warrant and remains at large.
Punishment for refusing to say 'Amen'
Police allege in court documents that Ramkissoon conspired with the four other cult members to deprive Javon of food and water in December 2006, and that the boy died after two days without nourishment. Antoinette wanted to punish the toddler for refusing to say "Amen" after meals, and cult members also viewed him as a "demon," according to the documents.
The documents allege that Antoinette later put Javon's body in a suitcase that was hidden in a shed behind a Philadelphia home for more than a year. Police recovered the suitcase in April. DNA tests are pending to confirm that the body inside was Javon's.
A public defender appointed to represent Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs in a previous case did not return messages seeking comment. The three were scheduled to be re-arraigned Wednesday morning in that case, which stemmed from a scuffle with police officers who tried to remove a child from the headquarters of 1 Mind Ministries.