Doctor describes suffering endured by starved infant

Boston Globe/January 27, 2004
By Dave Wedge

A government-hired pediatrician testifying yesterday in the murder trial of Attleboro cult mom Karen Robidoux described the extreme pain her son endured while starving to death and said she should have fled the high-control group to save her child.

"She knew perfectly well that her child was dying," said Dr. Eli Newberger, a Children's Hospital pediatrician considered an expert in child malnutrition. "But she did not take the step of opening the door. She knew perfectly well what that child needed and she denied that child the right to live."

Newberger was hired by Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr.'s office to sort through mountains of journals written by leaders of The Body religious sect that grimly detailed how Robidoux's 11-month-old son, Samuel, slowly starved to death in 1999. The boy had begun eating table food, but was switched back solely to nursing as part of a bizarre prophecy handed down by Robidoux's sister-in-law, Michelle Mingo.

Newberger said such a radical shift would result in physical and emotional torment.

"The breast milk (alone) would not be enough to sustain the child," he said, noting that the child would "immediately" experience extreme hunger and thirst. "This is an awful pain and an awful psychological pain for an infant."

Newberger said the journals also detailed how members of the strict fundamentalist sect practiced corporal punishment on babies and young children, a fact already relayed to the Taunton Superior Court jury by several ex-members.

"There are several examples of how children were severely paddled," Newberger said.

Prosecutors say Robidoux, 29, sat by idly as her baby died an agonizing death while being denied food for 51 days. She faces second-degree murder charges while her husband, Jacques Robidoux, is serving a life sentence for the killing. Mingo is awaiting trial on accessory charges. Several members were granted immunity in the case while others were not charged, including the cult's leader Roland Robidoux, who enforced prophecies and was viewed as having a direct pipeline to God.

Karen Robidoux's attorney, Joseph Krowski, is claiming his client was forced through brainwashing and intimidation to go along with the deadly plan. Under questioning from Krowski, Newberger admitted Karen Robidoux tried to feed Samuel apple sauce but the boy vomited, a fact Newberger attributed to the latter stages of starvation.

She also continued a strict regimen of drinking a gallon of almond milk daily and breast fed the boy once every hour to the point where her nipples were chewed bloody, Newberger acknowledged.

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