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Mother of Starved Child Set to Be Released

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Associated Press
Tuesday, August 11, 2009; 11:55 AM

A woman who pleaded guilty to starving her toddler son to death while part of a religious cult will be released from the Baltimore jail within a matter of weeks or even days, her attorney said Tuesday.

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Ria Ramkissoon, 22, will be enrolled in a counseling program on a farm in rural northeast Maryland, according to attorneys on both sides. The program, which has no fences or guards, was chosen for her by a city prosecutor who arranges alternative sentencing options.

"It's not a correctional facility. It's a place for her to get re-acclimated. She'll be part of a community and have a job and responsibilities," said Steven D. Silverman, Ramkissoon's attorney. "She's very excited about the opportunity to do something positive."

Ramkissoon pleaded guilty in March to child abuse resulting in death. Authorities said she was part of a cult that denied food and water to one-year-old Javon Thompson because the boy did not say "Amen" after meals.

After the boy died, the cult leader, Queen Antoinette, told her followers to pray for his resurrection, according to police and prosecutors. The cult members ultimately placed Javon's body in a suitcase and hid it behind a house in Philadelphia, where police found it in 2008, more than a year after his death, authorities said.

Silverman has argued that Ramkissoon was brainwashed by the cult and was not responsible for her son's death. Her plea deal includes a provision that would allow her to withdraw the plea if Javon is resurrected.

Ramkissoon was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, but the sentencing was delayed until November because the other four cult members have yet to go on trial. She agreed to testify against them as part of her plea deal.

The agreement calls for Ramkissoon to receive a 20-year suspended sentence and five years of probation. The maximum sentence for child abuse resulting in death is 30 years, and defendants typically receive between 12 and 20 years, according to Maryland sentencing guidelines.

But prosecutors have shown little zeal in pursuing punishment for Ramkissoon, a native of Trinidad with no previous criminal history. Her mother has said she was naive and easily influenced when she was recruited into the cult as an unwed teenage mother.

Ramkissoon has received no mental health counseling while in the city jail, and the program will allow her to get the help she needs, Silverman said. She will remain there as long as counselors deem it necessary, he said.

The other four cult members ¿ Antoinette, 41; Trevia Williams, 21; Marcus A. Cobbs, 22; and Steven L. Bynum, 43 ¿ are scheduled for trial in October on charges including first-degree murder. Antoinette and Williams have not retained lawyers and plan to represent themselves.

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