Strict discipline: Ex-member testifies cult beat children

Boston Herald/January 23, 2004
By Dave Wedge

Attleboro cult leader Roland Robidoux taught his brainwashed minions to beat their children with paddles to "break their spirit" and encouraged spanking babies who were just a few months old as "training," an ex-member testified yesterday.

"As soon as they could crawl or walk, that's when the training would begin," former sect member Dennis Mingo said from the witness stand in Taunton Superior Court. "Roland had a saying: All he needed was two weeks and a paddle and he could straighten out any child. That was his philosophy."

The allegations of systematic abuse of children in The Body religious sect were made by Mingo during the trial of Karen Robidoux, who is charged with second-degree murder for the 1999 starvation death of her 11-month-old son, Samuel. Prosecutors say Robidoux, 29, starved her son to death to fulfill a religious prophecy handed down by Michelle Mingo, who is Roland Robidoux's daughter and Mingo's ex-wife.

She is awaiting trial on accessory charges. Karen Robidoux's husband, Jacques, is serving a life sentence for their son's killing.

Mingo acknowledged that children in the sect were struck with wooden paddles which some members wore around their necks like necklaces. He testified the children's beatings were designed by Roland Robidoux to "break their spirit." Children as young as 1 were made to stand at attention and remain quiet while adults held religious pow-wows in Mingo's Seekonk home, he said.

"I found myself disciplining the kids not because of what the kids did, but to please (Roland)," Mingo said. "It's the thing I'm most ashamed about."

Mingo also recalled checking a basement refrigerator for the body of Jeremiah Corneau, the stillborn son of members David and Rebecca Corneau. Jeremiah died during a homebirth and was missing along with Samuel until David Corneau led authorities to the babies' gravesite in upstate Maine.

"I opened the freezers, not looking for food, but to see if there were any kind of remains," he said.

Mingo described how Roland Robidoux instilled a culture of fear , prompting members to blindly follow his every order. When asked why he never called police if he was concerned about Jeremiah and Samuel, Mingo replied,"I didn't trust the police."

The government is one of seven societal institutions which the group believes is evil, based on the teachings of Florida author, Carol Balizet.

Defense attorney Joseph Krowski plans to argue that his client was prevented from helping Samuel. He says Karen Robidoux was emotionally abused, subjected to constant pressure and intimidation and denied proper nutrition. Krowski said she was forced to try to nurse the baby every hour, even though she had stopped producing milk.

"She exercised every ounce of maternal instinct she had," he said."She was as much a victim as Samuel."

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