BALTIMORE — A woman who starved her 1-year-old son to death at the behest of a religious cult leader was given a sentence Wednesday that won't require her to serve any more jail time.
Ria Ramkissoon, 23, pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in the death of Javon Thompson. She admitted denying food and water to the 16-month-old child when he did not say "Amen" before a meal. Javon wasted away over the course of a week before his heart stopped beating.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory suspended the balance of Ramkissoon's 20-year sentence and ordered her to report to a residential treatment facility for young women. The treatment program includes Bible study, and Ramkissoon will be required to complete the program, which doesn't have a specified length, before she can live on her own.
Ramkissoon, who has been in jail since her August 2008 arrest, also was given five years of probation.
At the time of Javon's death, Ramkissoon was living with a small religious cult led by a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette. She told Ramkissoon that the child had "a spirit of rebellion" inside him and that denying him food would cure him.
After Javon died in late 2006 or early 2007, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection, and Ramkissoon spent weeks with her son's body. She testified in February at Antoinette's trial that she still believes her son will be resurrected, and her plea deal contained an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the plea will be withdrawn.
A jury convicted Antoinette, her daughter Trevia Williams and another follower, Marcus A. Cobbs, of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. They face 60 years in prison when they are sentenced next month.
Ramkissoon appeared more relaxed Wednesday than when she testified at trial. Her attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon felt intimidated by Antoinette, who acted as her own attorney and cross-examined Ramkissoon extensively.
Before the hearing began on Wednesday, Ramkissoon smiled, gestured and made faces at her mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton.
"I just want to say thank you to everybody that did their best ... and listened to me and believed in me," Ramkissoon told the court in a soft voice.
Silverman said the swift jury verdict against Antoinette, Williams and Cobbs helped his client understand what the cult had done to her and her son.
"She was really sucked in and duped by these people," Silverman said. "I think she is starting to realize, albeit painfully realize, that there will be no resurrection, that Queen Antoinette never spoke with God."
Khadan-Newton said her relationship with her daughter had improved markedly in the past several weeks. When she was arrested in August 2008, "she was like a zombie," and she wanted no contact with her family, Khadan-Newton said.
Ramkissoon was born in Trinidad and raised a Hindu; she converted to Christianity as a teenager. Javon was born out of wedlock when Ramkissoon was 18.
Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake said the sentence was compassionate but fair.
"The state has always seen her as something of a victim in this case," Drake said.
Doory reminded Ramkissoon that she would have to live with knowing she was partly responsible for Javon's death, but added, "You were misled and did not do this with any ill will to your son."