Sect member's lawyer says client can no longer pay

C. Samuel Sutter hopes to become the court-appointed counsel for Karen E. Robidoux, saying she has no more money to pay him.

Providence Journal/March 5, 2002

Dedham -- The privately paid lawyer representing an Attleboro religious sect member charged with murder in the starvation death of her year-old boy told a Superior Court judge yesterday that his client is out of money and that he wants taxpayers to pay his bills from now on.

Lawyer C. Samuel Sutter told Judge Elizabeth Bowen Donovan that he is hoping to become the court-appointed lawyer for sect member Karen E. Robidoux, who is charged with second-degree murder in the 1999 death of Samuel E. Robidoux. In order to be appointed by the court, and paid with state money, Sutter must first be approved by the Committee for Public Counsel Services. He said that process could take two weeks.

This would be the second time in this case that Robidoux has been represented by a court-appointed lawyer. Before hiring Sutter, she was represented by Robert L. Jubinville.

Because Sutter's status was unclear, Donovan postponed a hearing that had been scheduled for yesterday on whether Robidoux and her husband, Jacques D. Robidoux, who is charged with first-degree murder, should have separate trials. Donovan said she will consider the separate-trial motion at the next pretrial hearing in the case, April 25.

Donovan did rule on several other pretrial motions yesterday, including setting June 3 as the starting date for either a joint trial or the first of separate trials.

Karen Robidoux has filed a motion to be tried separately from her husband, arguing, among other things, that her defense may be antagonistic to his. Early in the case, Jubinville told reporters that Robidoux had tried to feed her baby, but her husband prevented her.

Prosecutors, citing thousands of pages of diaries seized from the insular sect, have said that, when Samuel was 10 months old and had begun eating solid food, the sect began systematically starving the boy in response to a vision from God that one member said she had received. G. Michelle Mingo, Jacques Robidoux's sister, said that the vision directed that the boy was to consume only water and his mother's milk. By that time, though, Karen Robidoux was pregnant again and apparently unable to produce enough milk to sustain the boy, according to prosecutors.

In order to qualify to serve as Robidoux's court-appointed counsel, Sutter must meet five criteria laid out by the public counsel committee. He must have at least five years' experience handling criminal trials. He must be familiar with the rules under which criminal trials are conducted in Massachusetts. He must have been the lead lawyer handling at least 10 serious and complex trials in the last five years, at least five of which had a possible penalty of life in prison. He must have experience using expert witnesses, including psychiatric and forensic evidence. And he must have attended specialized training.

For eight years in the 1990s, Sutter was a state prosecutor in the Bristol County district attorney's office, handling cases in Superior Court for the last four of those years. It would seem that he could meet the committee's requirements with that experience.

In other motions presented by Jacques Robidoux's lawyer, Francis M. O'Boy, Donovan:


    • Denied a motion to have the jury sequestered, but said Robidoux could raise the issue again.


    • Did not rule on a motion to bar the prosecution from showing a videotape of the autopsy of Samuel Robidoux. Prosecutors said they may need to show it to rebut opinions offered by defense experts. Donovan said she wanted to read a defense expert's report before ruling.


  • Did not rule on motions to move the trial out of Bristol County or bring in jurors from outside the county to counter prejudicial publicity. O'Boy predicted a circus atmosphere among the press.

Donovan chose the June 3 trial date based, in part, on O'Boy's saying he needs 10 to 12 weeks for an expert anthropologist from the Smithsonian Institution to analyze a medical examiner's ruling that skeletal evidence indicates Samuel Robidoux died of starvation.

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