Former Sect Leader Appeals Conviction

Associated Press/September 7, 2007

Boston — After Jacques Robidoux was charged with murder in the starvation death of his infant son, he refused to be examined by a psychotherapist, citing his belief that modern medicine was one of Satan's "counterfeit systems."

Robidoux, a leader of a religious sect, said he expected a miracle would save his 11-month-old son.

Now, Robidoux is appealing his murder conviction, claiming he was mentally ill and that his former lawyer should have used an insanity defense.

The state Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear Robidoux's appeal Friday. Robidoux is asking the high court to grant him a new trial or reduce his conviction from first-degree murder to assault and battery or manslaughter.

Robidoux, 34, was one of the leaders of a small Attleboro cult known as "The Body." The group started as a Bible study group of two large extended families based in southeastern Massachusetts, but it developed into a sect with strict controls on its followers. Members of the sect rejected modern institutions, including the medical establishment, public education, the legal system.

Robidoux and his wife, Karen, were charged with murder after their son, Samuel, died three days before his first birthday in April 1999.

Robidoux testified that he and his wife believed they were following a message from God when they began feeding Samuel only his mother's breast milk. Prosecutors said the boy starved over the next 51 days because his mother had become pregnant again and stopped producing enough milk to nourish him.

"Jacques was under the delusional brainwashing of this cult, and he was incapable of independent thought," said Janet Pumphrey, Robidoux's appellate lawyer.

Pumphrey says Robidoux's trial lawyer should have used an insanity defense or at least presented testimony from experts about Robidoux's mental impairment.

"Jacques adamantly believed that God himself had ordered him to so restrict Samuel's food that Samuel starved to death. He believed that no harm would come to Samuel, despite his failing condition, and that, if Samuel died, he could bring him back to life," Pumphrey argues in court documents.

But prosecutors argue that Robidoux was not delusional, did not have a mental impairment and made "fully informed tactical choices" during the trial when he decided against using an insanity defense.

"He appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct," said Special Assistant District Attorney Sharon Sullivan-Puccini. "It's so clear from everything he did that he knew from the first day that Samuel was thirsty and hungry. He could hear it in his cries."

Francis O'Boy, Robidoux's trial lawyer, said Robidoux rejected the idea of using an insanity defense.

"We certainly thought about it, but he would have none of it," O'Boy said Thursday.

Robidoux is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. A jury acquitted Karen Robidoux of second-degree murder, but convicted her of assault and battery charges in her son's death. She was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and released in 2004.

Jacques Robidoux's sister, Michelle Mingo, whose self-described vision from God prompted the couple to withhold food from their son, pleaded guilty to an accessory charge and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years. She was freed in 2004.

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