The leader of a household that authorities described as a religious cult was convicted Tuesday along with two other people of starving a 1-year-old boy to death because he did not say "Amen" during a mealtime prayer.
Jurors convicted the leader, Queen Antoinette, 41, of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in the death of Javon Thompson, who was 15 or 16 months old when he died in December 2006 or January 2007.
Antoinette's daughter, Trevia Williams, 22, and another follower, Marcus A. Cobbs, 23, were also found guilty of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. Cobbs was also convicted of accessory after the fact.
The defendants face up to 60 years in prison when they are sentenced May 18.
Javon wasted away before the eight-person household, according to testimony. His heart stopped beating after a week or more without food, his mother, Ria Ramkissoon, testified.
After Javon died, according to witnesses, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection and ordered Ramkissoon to "nurture him back to life." Ramkissoon testified that she still believes Javon will rise from the dead, saying she didn't care if it makes her sound crazy.
Ramkissoon said she stayed with Javon's body for weeks after he died, 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.
'We've been like pariahs'
Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs 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: Group members dressed in only white, blue and khaki. They left the house only in pairs, they destroyed identification documents and cut off contact with relatives. And they were encouraged to smoke marijuana, which Antoinette called "God's weed."
Even her 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. Her former boyfriend testified that he continued to refer to her as Toni despite her preferred new name.
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 Danielle Smith, a friend of Ramkissoon's. Smith testified that Cobbs had her committed to a psychiatric hospital in New York after she began telling outsiders about Javon's death. She ultimately led police to his body.