- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BALTIMORE | A man accused in the cult-related 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.

Prosecutors said Mr. Bynum and four other members of a religious group called 1 Mind Ministries - including the baby’s mother - conspired to deny food and water to Javon in December 2006.

Cult members were angry that the baby did not say “Amen” after meals, authorities said. After he died, the cult members are thought to have 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.

At a bail review hearing Friday, defense attorney Catherine Flynn said Mr. Bynum was not a flight risk because he traveled to Baltimore from New York to turn himself in when he learned of the charges against him. She also said her client, who has no criminal history, does not present a continuing threat to public safety.

Baltimore Circuit Judge A. John Howard agreed, ordering Mr. Bynum released on his own recognizance. Mr. Bynum had been held without bail. He was not released immediately because of a paperwork delay but was expected to be freed from the city jail Monday afternoon, said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Prosecutors 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 Judge Howard issued his ruling.

“We were just absolutely astonished,” said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office.

The only restrictions placed on Mr. Bynum were that he avoid contact with his co-defendants and check in periodically with the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, attorneys said. Mr. Bynum plans to remain in Baltimore, Miss Flynn said.

Mr. Bynum had been ordered held without bail in two previous reviews. Prosecutors argued Friday that his bail status should not change because there had been no change in circumstance, such as a reduction to the charges against him or the continuation of a trial date.

Miss Flynn merely asked Judge Howard to set “a reasonable bail” and acknowledged that it was “rare” for someone charged with first-degree murder to be released on his own recognizance. But she told the judge that she thought her client has been overcharged.

“The allegations are that people didn’t feed the child, but there’s no allegation that my client affirmatively participated in that agreement,” she said. “In fact, there’s evidence that he disagreed with that conduct and argued about it.”

Miss Flynn also said Mr. Bynum did not have custody of the child and was not responsible for his welfare.

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. They are charged with first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death and are scheduled for trial Jan. 28.

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