Attleboro - Former Attleboro religious cult leader Jacques Robidoux has been granted a rare post-conviction hearing in federal court of his highly publicized 2002 murder case.
Robidoux, 36, is serving a life prison term for starving his son, Samuel, to death three days before his first birthday in April 1999, then burying his body months later at Baxter State Park in Maine.
He is not eligible for parole because he was convicted of first-degree murder.
Robidoux testified he believed he was following instructions he and other members of his family had received from God.
His defense, however, raised the possibility the boy died of other causes. U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo T. Sorokin granted Robidoux's request for a hearing on his habeas corpus petition, but no date has been set.
His appellate lawyer, Janet H. Pumphrey of Lenox, could not be reached by The Sun Chronicle for comment Wednesday.
However, in an online story in Lawyers Weekly, Pumphrey said, "This is not something that happens on a regular basis."
"The premise of my argument is that Robidoux was not competent at the time of his trial and that he should have been evaluated," she told the legal journal. "The fact that he has been granted a hearing in federal court is a very significant development."
Pumphrey said she plans to call four or five witnesses.
Pumphrey handled Robidoux's appeal before the state Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld the first-degree murder conviction in December 2007.
In court filings in U.S. District Court in Boston, Pumphrey makes similar arguments she made before the SJC, including that Robidoux should have been evaluated before trial for competency.
Taunton lawyer, Francis O'Boy, who defended Robidoux, had raised the possibility of an insanity defense, but Robidoux rejected it.
Robidoux's wife, Karen, was charged with second-degree murder and was tried after her husband. She maintained she was brainwashed by the cult and was acquitted.
Jacques Robidoux's federal petition was opposed by the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley.