Death Opens Doors on Group
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Members of One Mind Ministries drew little notice in the working-class Baltimore neighborhood where they lived in a nondescript brick rowhouse.
But inside, prosecutors say, horrors were unfolding: Answering to a leader called Queen Antoinette, they denied a 16-month-old boy food and water because he did not say "Amen" at mealtimes. After he died, they prayed over his body for days, expecting a resurrection, then packed it into a suitcase with mothballs. They left it in a shed in Philadelphia, where it remained for a year before detectives found it last spring.
Tomorrow, five of the group's alleged members -- including the boy's mother, Ria Ramkissoon -- are scheduled to be tried in Baltimore on murder charges. Sources and Ramkissoon's mother said Ramkissoon, 22, has agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge on one condition: The charges against her must be dropped if her son, Javon Thompson, is resurrected.
Psychiatrists who evaluated Ramkissoon at the request of a judge concluded that she was not criminally insane. Her attorney, Steven Silverman, said the doctors found that her beliefs were indistinguishable from religious beliefs, in part because they were shared by those around her.
"She wasn't delusional, because she was following a religion," Silverman said, describing the findings of the doctors' psychiatric evaluation.
At the time of Javon's death, thought to be in January 2007, One Mind numbered no more than a dozen adults and children. The group claimed to find authority for its beliefs in the Bible. New members surrendered cellphones and broke off contacts with friends and family, according to law enforcement officials and Silverman.
Silverman said he and prosecutors think Ramkissoon was brainwashed and should have been found not criminally responsible; prosecutors declined to comment. Although an inability to think critically can be a sign of brainwashing, experts said, the line between that and some religious beliefs can be difficult to discern.
"At times there can be an overlap between extreme religious conviction and delusion," said Robert Jay Lifton, a cult expert and psychiatrist who lectures at Harvard Medical School. "It's a difficult area for psychiatry and the legal system."
Ramkissoon's mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, said she is concerned that Ramkissoon might remain in the thrall of One Mind and back out of the plea agreement at the last minute. "I'm so scared. I don't know what's going to come out of her mouth," Khadan-Newton said.
Under the agreement, Ramkissoon, known within the group as Princess Marie, would plead guilty to child abuse resulting in death and cooperate with prosecutors. The murder charge would be dropped, and prosecutors would recommend probation and treatment.
Ramkissoon was born into a Hindu family in Trinidad but embraced Christianity after she moved to Baltimore at age 7 to live with her mother, a nursing assistant, Khadan-Newton said. She participated in the Junior ROTC program at Northwestern High School and graduated with honors.
In 2005, she became pregnant by her boyfriend. By the time Javon was born, in September of that year, his father was in jail on a charge of attempted murder.