An Attleboro cult leader and his wife will face a murder rap for allegedly starving their young son to death, and the child's aunt will be charged with orchestrating the "horrific" killing out of jealousy, prosecutors said yesterday.
"This is one of the most chilling homicides I've ever had to deal with in my life," Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. said of the "torture" death of Samuel Robidoux. "No religious group in the world allows this to happen. This is a clear case of murder. This isn't religion."
Prosecutors say Jacques and Karen Robidoux, acting on a religious "prophecy" offered by Jacques' sister, Michelle Mingo, reverted their son, Samuel, to a breast-milk only diet, even though he was already eating table food such as yogurt, vegetables and crackers.
Karen was pregnant and had stopped lactating but the group felt it was "God's will" that Samuel only have breast milk and allegedly allowed him to slowly starve to death over two months.
Prosecutors say Mingo concocted the deadly prophecy as a way of getting back at Karen because she was jealous of her good looks. "She lit the match that lit the torch that burned the building," Walsh said of Mingo. "She's got to be held culpable."
A Fall River special grand jury handed up indictments yesterday against the Robidouxs and Mingo in connection with Samuel's April 26, 1999, death. The boy, one of four Robidoux children, died three days before his first birthday. His three siblings are among 13 cult children that have been taken into Department of Social Services custody.
The indictment charges Jacques Robidoux, 27, with first degree murder and Karen Robidoux, 24, with second degree murder. Mingo, 35, is charged with being an accessory to assault and battery on a child, a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.
Walsh said Karen Robidoux faces lesser murder charges because she "showed less intent" than her husband. "She seemed to be concerned about her son," Walsh said. "She was distraught about it. She talked to other people about it, but still she continued to follow this course."
Jacques Robidoux, meanwhile, showed "total indifference" and "a total lack of concern for his son's suffering."
"He encouraged others not to be discouraged that his son was wasting away and dying right before their very eyes," Walsh said.
Mingo and Jacques Robidoux have been jailed for months for stonewalling the grand jury, while Karen Robidoux was arrested at the cult's Attleboro home yesterday morning. All three were slated to be arraigned today in Fall River Superior Court.
Ten other cultists, including two who helped bury Samuel in Maine, won't be charged, due partly to a loophole in state law that protects blood relatives and in-laws from being charged as accessories after a murder. Also, prosecutors say, the others in the insular sect were not obligated to stop or report the boy's starvation.
"Nothing in the law says you have to save anybody," prosecutor Walter Shea said.
Mark and Tim Daneau, who helped dig Samuel's grave, could, however, face charges in Maine, where it is a crime to illegally bury a body, Walsh said. Samuel's body was missing for more than a year before investigators were led to a remote hilltop gravesite in Maine's Baxter State Park by cult member David Corneau, who also helped bury the boy.
Corneau, whose stillborn son Jeremiah was buried alongside Samuel, led prosecutors to the makeshift grave as part of an immunity deal that protects him and his wife, Rebecca.
The Attleboro-based sect, called "The Body," bases its beliefs on the Old Testament and denounces seven mainstream institutions, including the medical and legal systems.
Former cult member Dennis Mingo, who left the group as it became increasingly radical, said he thinks some members still think God will save them.
"They believe God doesn't come through until the last minute, when there's no other hope," he said. "It's a very dangerous way of thinking." Walsh called the group "a bizarre cult" and said they fabricated "visions" from God to meet their needs, culminating in the "brutal" death of Samuel. "They saw their child starving to death in front of them," he said. "As their child is starving and they see his ribs sticking out and his eyes going in different directions, they walk past that starving child on their way to dinner. They starved their baby in a house full of food."