BALTIMORE – In an unusual development for a murder case, an alleged member of a religious cult accused in the starvation death of a toddler was released from custody Monday and will remain free with minimal supervision until trial.
Steven L. Bynum, 42, is charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in the death of 1-year-old Javon Thompson. According to prosecutors, Bynum and four other members of a religious group called 1 Mind Ministries – including Javon’s mother – conspired to deny food and water to the boy in December 2006.
Cult members were angry that Javon did not say “Amen” after meals, authorities said. After he died, they allegedly put his body in a suitcase, which was kept in a shed behind a home in Philadelphia for more than a year before police found it in April.
Defense attorney Catherine Flynn said she argued at a bail review hearing Friday that Bynum was not a flight risk because he traveled to Baltimore from New York to turn himself in when he learned of the charges he faces. She also said Bynum, who has no criminal history, does not present a continuing threat to public safety.
Baltimore Circuit Judge A. John Howard agreed, ordering Bynum released on his own recognizance. Bynum had been held without bail. He remained in the city jail over the weekend because of a paperwork delay but was freed Monday afternoon, said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Prosecutors said they could not recall another defendant charged with first-degree murder who was released on his own recognizance and described an audible gasp in the courtroom after Howard issued his ruling.
“We were just absolutely astonished,” said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State (http://www.examiner.com/Subject-Baltimore_State.html)’s Attorney’s office.
Flynn noted that Bynum did not have custody of Javon and was not responsible for his welfare.
“The state is focusing on the fact that he didn’t call police, he didn’t call (social services). But that’s not a crime,” Flynn said.
Four other members of the now-defunct 1 Mind Ministries – Ria Ramkissoon, Javon’s mother; Queen Antoinette, the alleged cult leader; Trevia Williams; and Marcus Cobbs – remain held without bail. Like Bynum, the other four are charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death.
The five are scheduled for trial Jan. 28.
April 2006: Ria Ramkissoon moves out of her mother’s house with her 15-month-old son, Javon Thompson.
Oct. 6, 2006: Members of 1Mind Ministries, including Ramkissoon, who are living in a rowhouse on Robinson Street, confront Tiffany Smith, who had left the group and returned with police to get her two children back. Charged with hindering and obstructing police are Marcus Cobbs, Queen Antoinette, Steven Bynum and Trevia Williams. They are released on their own recognizance.
October to January, 2007: 1Mind Ministries moves to Auchentoroly Terrace. It is here, police say, that Javon was killed after he would not say “Amen” after meals. Court documents say his body was put into a green suitcase.
Jan. 30, 2007: Landlord evicts the group from Auchentoroly Terrace.
Feb 13, 2007: Bynum rents a Chevrolet Impala and packs it with belongings, including the green suitcase, and he and five others drive to Philadelphia and check into a Red Roof Inn.
March 16, 2007: Members of the group and two children seek help from Travelers Aid in Philadelphia but are turned down because they refuse to provide identification. Philadelphia police encounter the group, and the Department of Social Services takes away the children.
Mid-March, 2007: Members of the group befriend an elderly man who lets them stay in his apartment for about a week and store their property, including the green suitcase.
Feb. 9, 2008: Ramkissoon’s mother, Seeta Khadan-Newton, travels to Brooklyn, N.Y., to locate her daughter and grandson. After getting no help from her daughter, she returns to Baltimore and contacts authorities. New York City social workers and police investigate.
Feb. 20, 2008: Baltimore homicide detectives learn that Javon Thompson might have been killed in the city after they are contacted by a social worker in New York.
Feb. 22, 2008: Baltimore detectives meet with Khadan-Newton, who tells them about 1Mind Ministries and her missing grandson.
March 19, 2008: A Philadelphia homicide detective locates the children who had been taken away a year ago. The children provide “direct eye-witness accounts relative to the death of Javon Thompson,” according to court documents.
April 28, 2008: Baltimore detectives travel to Philadelphia and talk with the 77-year-old man who had rented to the group for the week. He directs police to a locked shed behind his apartment, where authorities find the green suitcase with the remains of a child.
May 4-5, 2008: Baltimore police travel to Brooklyn, N.Y., to search for members of the ministry. Cobbs, Antoinette and Williams are arrested on charges that they failed to appear in Baltimore court in connection with their arrest in 2006 in the child-custody dispute. Ramkissoon, the child’s mother, is not arrested and returns to Baltimore.
May 19, 2008: Baltimore prosecutors argue in court that the three suspects should be held without bail because they are “persons of interest” in the disappearance of Javon.
June 2, 2008: DNA samples collected from Ramkissoon match the remains found in the green suitcase.
Aug. 9, 2008: Ramkissoon, having been arrested at a homeless shelter in Baltimore, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of her son. Antoinette, Cobbs, Williams and Bynum are charged with murder in arrest warrants.
Aug. 12, 2008: Ramkissoon is ordered held without bail. Antoinette and Williams are scheduled to have a bail review today. A bail review for Cobbs has not yet been scheduled. Police are searching for Bynum.