For more than a week, Ria Ramkissoon watched passively as her one-year-old son wasted away, denied food and water because the older woman she lived with said it was God’s will.
Javon Thompson was possessed by an evil spirit, Ramkissoon was told, because he didn’t say “Amen” during a mealtime prayer. Javon didn’t talk much, given his age, but he had said “Amen” before, Ramkissoon testified in a US court in Baltimore.
On the day Javon died, Ramkissoon was told to “nurture him back to life”. She mashed up some carrots and tried to feed the boy, but he was no longer able to swallow. Ramkissoon put her hands on his chest to confirm that his heart had stopped beating.
Ramkissoon and several other people knelt down and prayed that he would rise from the dead. For weeks afterward, Ramkissoon spent much of her time in a room with her son’s emaciated body — talking to him, dancing, even giving him water. She thought she could bring him back.
Ramkissoon told the tale of her son’s excruciating death from the witness stand on Wednesday, at the trial of the woman she says told her not to feed the boy. Queen Antoinette was the leader of a small religious cult, according to police and prosecutors, and she faces murder charges alongside her daughter, Trevia Williams, and another follower, Marcus A. Cobbs.
The three are acting as their own attorneys.
Javon died in either December 2006 or January 2007; Ramkissoon isn’t sure of the exact date. His body was hidden in a suitcase for more than a year and has since been buried. But even now, she maintains her faith in his resurrection.
“I still believe that my son is coming back,” Ramkissoon said. “I have no problem saying what really happened because I believe he’s coming back.
“Queen said God told her he would come back. I believe it. I choose to believe it,” she said. “Even now, despite everything, I choose to believe it for my reasons.”
Later, she acknowledged that her faith makes her sound crazy. “I don’t have a problem sounding crazy in court,” she said.
Ramkissoon, 23, was born in Trinidad and moved to Baltimore at age seven. She stands 5 feet (1.52 metres) tall and weighs about 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms).
She wore a white sweater and blue jeans and was calm throughout her testimony, speaking in a clear and even voice. She appeared mildly agitated at certain questions but otherwise showed little emotion, even as she described how her starving son lost weight, became lethargic and lost his voice.
She was led to the courtroom in handcuffs. She pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in death, agreeing to the deal only under the condition that if Javon is resurrected, the plea will be vacated. Prosecutors and a judge accepted that extraordinary condition, specifying that only a “Jesus-like resurrection” would suffice.
Because Antoinette is representing herself, she was able to cross-examine the young woman who lived with her for two years, much of that time after her son’s death.
Antoinette asked whether her statement about not feeding Javon was an order or a “suggestion”.
Ramkissoon said she has consistently told prosecutors and her attorney that she was not forced to starve her son, but she made clear the idea was Antoinette’s.
“When I was about to feed him,” Ramkissoon said to Antoinette, “you said, ‘You shouldn’t feed him anything’, and then you told me why. … I believed you.”
Williams and Cobbs also lived in the home, along with Antoinette’s three other children and a childhood friend of Ramkissoon’s. No one challenged Antoinette’s statement that the boy should not be fed, Ramkissoon said.
Ramkissoon detailed how the group relocated to Philadelphia and brought Javon’s body in a suitcase. She described how Javon was packed with sheets and blankets and how she sprayed his body with disinfectant and stuffed the suitcase with fabric softener sheets to mask the odour.
The suitcase was hidden in a shed in Philadelphia for more than a year before it was discovered by police, according to testimony.
Members of Antoinette’s household were told to wear only white, blue and khaki. They left the home only in pairs, and they avoided doctors or hospitals. They destroyed identification cards and had little contact with their families.
Ramkissoon said she often questioned Antoinette’s rules and orders but never disobeyed her because she believed her to be “a godly woman”.
“Looking back now,” Ramkissoon told Antoinette, “I won’t say that everything you thought was right, was right.”