Suspected cult members sentenced

Three accused cult members, convicted of starving a toddler to death in the name of religion, were sentenced Tuesday to a collective 150 years in prison.

Toni Sloan, 41, who claimed God had christened her "Queen Antoinette," received a 50-year sentence composed of two consecutive 25-year terms, one for second-degree murder and the other for first-degree child abuse. Sloan said she was "not sorry" for the toddler's death.

Trevia Williams, 22, and Marcus Cobbs, 23 received the same sentence, with all but 15 years suspended for each.

"There can still be hope" for them, said Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory. He did not express the same optimism for Sloan, who had issued the order in 2006 to starve the 16-month-old boy until he said "amen," according to prosecutors.

"This crime is somewhat mystifying to me," Doory said at sentencing. "What that means is, you didn't care. And also, you knew you didn't care, and you just let it happen. … Each of you, with varying degrees of responsibility, stood by and watched that child die a horrible death."

The judge had dismissed first-degree murder charges against the three during the trial, saying that he did not believe that they had intended to kill the boy.

During the trial, Sloan was characterized as the head of the group, a cult leader who lured young people into her home and controlled the most minute aspects of their lives through her self-styled religion, down to what colors they wore and whether they were allowed to feed their sons.

"You were a collector of people, a collector of disaffected children, a collector of lost souls," Doory said to Sloan. "You are the person most responsible."

According to court testimony and prosecutor statements, Sloan took in at least a half-dozen young people, including her co-defendants, over several months in 2006, convincing them that they would suffer "eternal damnation" if they failed to follow her rules.

Sloan "couldn't tolerate any dissent or disobedience, not even from a 16-month-old child," said prosecutor Julie Drake, chief of the Baltimore state's attorney's Family Violence Division, who tried the case alongside Assistant State's Attorney Patricia McLane.

Sloan maintained her innocence Tuesday.

"I still believe, and I still stand firm, that I'm not guilty and the truth will eventually come out, however long it takes," Sloan said in court.

Among the group living with Sloan in 2006 was 19-year-old Ria Ramkissoon. She had moved in with her infant son, Javon Thompson, in part because she wasn't getting along with her stepfather at home.

Things were fine at first. But when Javon stopped repeating his mother's "amen" after prayers, Sloan ordered food and water withheld from him until he said it. He never did. His body wasted away, and he died within a week.

Ramkissoon testified that she had agreed to let Javon go hungry because she thought it would rid him of a "spirit of rebellion" that she took to be an actual entity. After his death, she was convinced that she could resurrect him if only she had enough faith.

Ramkissoon is now in a long-term, residential treatment facility receiving psychiatric care. She had pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and was sentenced last month to a 20-year term, with the prison time commuted to the 19 months she had already served. As part of her plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against her if her son came back to life.

"It was clear to everyone who interviewed Ms. Ramkissoon that she had been indoctrinated through classic 'brain-washing' techniques into a cult," Drake said in a statement released Tuesday to counter criticism that the sentence was too lenient.

"She had no malice or ill will toward Javon; quite the contrary, she believed Queen Antoinette was acting in his best interests," Drake wrote.

Ramkissoon testified during the weeklong trial of her three co-defendants, who represented themselves and were convicted in early March.

None of the defendants has shown remorse for Javon's death or accepted responsibility.

Williams, Sloan's biological daughter, mumbled something about not trusting the court when asked if she wanted to make a statement. She was described as "the enforcer" of Sloan's rules.

Cobbs, the third defendant, told the court that he had nothing to say. He had planned to help Javon once but had been talked out of it, according to trial testimony. Cobbs tried to cover up the boy's death, the jury found.

Javon's body was found in 2008 in a Pennsylvania shed, folded into a green, roller-bag suitcase.

In addition to their 15-year prison sentences, Cobbs and Williams will be placed on probation after their release and ordered to stay away from children who are not relatives and to avoid contact with their co-defendants. That means that Williams will be barred from seeing her mother.

Each defendant will be eligible for parole after serving half of his or her term.

Javon's grandmother, Seeta Newton, who had fought to save him from the moment her daughter took him away, read a statement in court.

"I look at Javon's picture every day and I realize that I'm never, ever going to hold him, never see him … never watch him grow up, never give him love again," Newton said. "I want him back, and it hurts me every day."

Turning to Sloan, she decried her use of religion to manipulate young people.

"You sneak up on them when their families are not looking," Newton said. "The most disgusting part of this is that you do it in the name of God."

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