Ministry Members Charged in Baltimore After Baby’s Body Is Found Death Opens Doors on Group
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.
Ricky Ramkissoon said One Mind allowed him to visit his sister twice before he made clear he didn’t want to join. He said he once saw Queen Antoinette blow marijuana smoke in Javon’s face. Members of the group believe that marijuana “frees your soul,” he said.
Queen Antoinette, 40, does not have an attorney, according to court records. Officially known by that name in the records, she is in jail and could not be reached for comment.
According to charging documents, in December 2006, Javon stopped saying “Amen” at mealtimes. Queen Antoinette told members the boy had developed a demonic spirit and needed to be cleansed through fasting and by being denied water, law enforcement officials said.
Ramkissoon found it “unbearable” to watch but followed the instructions, the officials said. “In her mind, an apostle of God had ordered this,” Silverman said.
Javon’s skin turned dark and he stopped moving, according to charging documents. Ramkissoon tried to feed him, but his mouth would not open. She felt for a heartbeat but detected none.
The group came to believe there had been no resurrection because someone among them was not a true believer, according to an attorney for one of the other defendants, Marcus Cobbs. With that person no longer part of the group, they headed north out of Baltimore with the suitcase, believing Javon could be raised at a future date, according to Cobbs’s attorney, Maureen Rowland.
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Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China, Robert Jay Lifton [Read and excerpt]
Research resources on brainwashing
Research resources on mind control