Taunton -- An Attleboro cult member charged with starving his baby son to death watched the boy change in just three weeks from a healthy boy learning to walk to being too weak to roll, a prosecutor said yesterday.
"This is a case about the very short life and the very slow, excruciating death of a baby, (11-month-old) Samuel Robidoux," prosecutor Walter Shea said in his opening statement in the Bristol Superior Court first-degree murder trial of the baby's father, 29- year-old Jacques Robidoux.
Shea said he will introduce into evidence a 10-page journal written by the defendant that details his son's fatal decline after Jacques Robidoux's sister, also a member of their religious sect, said God told her Samuel must be cut off from solid food and live only on his mother's milk.
But Samuel's mother, Karen Robidoux, who faces a second-degree murder trial later his year, had become pregnant again and all but stopped producing milk.
Shea said Jacques Robidoux's own writings describe what happened to his wife and their son when Karen was unable to properly nurse the boy.
"Karen cannot bear what has happened because Samuel is crying so much ... I took Samuel from Karen because she can't stand it," Shea said Jacques Robidoux wrote after the first day of no milk.
Seven days later, according to Shea, Robidoux wrote, "Karen is getting frantic" because Samuel has lost so much weight "she can't stand the sight of him." Shea said Jacques Robidoux took over the task of bathing the child because his wife could not bear to see his bony body.
Three days later, Shea said, Robidoux wrote that his wife wanted to resume feeding the baby solid food, but he convinced her not to.
About one week later, Shea said, Robidoux sent a friend a letter in which he wrote, "I am sitting here watching Karen attempt to nurse. It is so sad. It is amazing to me that only 2 1/2 weeks ago, (Samuel) was taking first steps, and now he can barely roll over.
"We pray and hope that God sees fit to allow Karen's milk to come back."
Just about one year after he was born, Samuel Robidoux died of malnutrition, Shea said. He said the baby's body was "stored" on the Atteboro property of Jacques' sister, Michelle Mingo, the person who said God told her Samuel should be fed only mother's milk.
The bodies of Samuel and a stillborn baby of another sect member, Rebecca Corneau were found by police in the fall of 2000, about one year after they were buried, in the wilderness of Baxter State Park in northern Maine.
Defense attorney Francis O'Boy said he would give his opening statement to the jurors when the prosecution rests its case.
Shea's first witness yesterday was another of Jacques Robidoux's sisters, Nicole Kidson, who formerly belonged to the separatist religious sect founded by her father, Roland Robidoux.
Kidson said the sect, which almost exclusively comprised members of her family and the family of Roland and Georgette Daneau, shunned modern systems such as education, banking, medicine, science, arts and entertainment and the legal system.
The sect elders, who were Roland and Jacques Robidoux, even banned eyeglasses, and Kidson could barely see without them.
But she still was faithful to the group in June 1998, when Jacques called an emergency meeting on a Thursday night and said God was summoning the clan to Maine. Jacques instructed everyone to load up their families in their vehicles, but to leave behind material possessions such as money, jewelry and diapers.
They also took no food. At this time, Samuel Robidoux was only two months old and getting plenty of milk from his mother.
By midnight, a caravan of between 30 and 40 people, including about 20 very young children, drove north toward Maine. It wasn't long until one of the vehicles ran out of gas, and the occupants shifted into the other trucks and vans.
A short while later, a second vehicle ran out of gas. The rest of the group pulled over, gathered in a field and prayed for gasoline. Instead, local police came by and gave them enough fuel to get out of their county, Kidson testified.
By this time, some of the kids were so hungry they had begun to vomit.
"I was sick with worry," Kidson said. "There was a prophecy (by one of her relatives) that there would be food by the sabbath (Friday night)." No food materialized.
Kidson said sect members were sitting around, staring at their Bibles and using them "like a Ouija board, pointing their fingers (to random passages) and saying this is what God is trying to tell me."
Kidson said her kids were famished, and she was ready to take them away and wander almost blindly (she had no eyeglasses) to the first house she found and ask for help.
But the other family members convinced her that a "feast" would arrive the next day. Instead, Kidson's husband, Richard - who was frantic after his wife and children left without telling him where they were going - drove up and brought his family home to Attleboro. Richard Kidson had learned about their whereabouts from police.
When the rest of the clan returned to Massachusetts, Nicole Kidson testified, her father spoke positively about how the members had been willing to sacrifice the well-being of their children in order to follow God's instructions.