Ex-sect member describes notes about boy's decline

Introduced as evidence in the murder trial of Jacques D. Robidoux, the 10 pages of handwritten notes chronicle the "vision" that his year-old son be only breastfed and his slow starvation.

Providence Journal/June 7, 2002
By Paul Edward Parker

Taunton -- Dennis B. Mingo had become a foreigner in his own home.

The increasingly strict commandments of his small religious sect made him question his faith -- the faith subscribed to by his wife, her parents and her brother and sisters.

"They were ideas at first," Mingo testified yesterday in Superior Court. "If you want to call them rules later, that's what they became."

Eyeglasses were forbidden, along with visits to the doctor and taking medicine.

All books, except the Bible, had to be discarded.

Family photographs were destroyed.

And familiar holidays and birthdays were outlawed.

"Birthdays are a very selfish day, and you're supposed to live a very selfless life," Mingo testified. "And bad things happen on people's birthdays in the Bible."

He questioned the new rules, sometimes privately, sometimes to his wife, G. Michelle Mingo, the daughter of the sect's founder, J. Roland Robidoux. Distance grew between him and other members of the group.

"They felt that I had a wrong attitude, a negative attitude. I was made to feel the group was following God and there was something wrong with me," Mingo testified. "I was unwelcome on the premises -- my home."

Mingo left the group in November 1998, moving out of the house he owned with his wife and her grandmother.

But Mingo would be back.

And his return would spell trouble for the sect.

Mingo was the second witness called by prosecutors in the trial of Attleboro sect member Jacques D. Robidoux. Robidoux is charged with murder in the 1999 starvation death of his year-old son, Samuel E. Robidoux. Prosecutors say that Robidoux, 29, and his wife, Karen E. Robidoux, 26, withheld solid food from the boy after Michelle Mingo said a vision from God had commanded that the boy be only breastfed. By then, Karen Robidoux was pregnant again and unable to produce enough milk to sustain her son, according to prosecutors.

In September 1999, Mingo returned to his home, on Central Avenue in Seekonk, near the Attleboro line.

Sect members were holding a yard sale outside as Mingo entered the house.

"I'm looking for a baby. I'm looking for Becky and Dave's baby," Mingo testified. Neighbors who kept an eye on the house for Mingo had told him that his sister-in-law, Rebecca Corneau, had appeared pregnant that summer, then no longer seemed to be, though no baby was seen in the family.

Mingo serached the basement of the house. No signs of a baby.

On the main floor, he entered a room used for teaching, with a stack of Bibles on a shelf. "When I walked into the room, I noticed something hanging from the shelf," Mingo testified. It was a sheaf of papers with dates written on it. It seemed important. He stuffed it in his pants and went outside. "My girlfriend started to read them to me in the car."

What Mingo heard made him sick to his stomach, he testified.

The 10 pages of handwritten notes chronicled Michelle Mingo's vision that Samuel be only breastfed and his decline due to hunger.

An entry dated March 7 reads: "Samuel started only nursing as commanded by God. As the day grew on, Samuel was obviously not being filled. He was thirsty and hungry . . . As the night went on, Karen could not take Samuel crying anymore. She decided to go to bed."

By March 14, Karen Robidoux was growing concerned: "Karen's day started strong and positive with a good attitude. As the day grew on, Satan used the physical sight of Samuel to really get to her. He was obviously losing much weight and becoming much weaker . . . She had become very worried about Samuel's well-being and doubted if the Lord would take care of him."

That entry continues: "As the night drew, Karen was ready to quit. She (in the flesh) wanted to feed Samuel, but she knew in the spirit she needed to continue."

The last entry, dated March 17, reports God urging Karen Robidoux to trust her son's fate to Him: "It would please Me if you took Samuel and left him in the palm of My hand. Fear not and believe. I don't care about the flesh. I can spring up Samuel like the trees. I don't care about Samuel right now. I'm working with you to believe without doubt."

Mingo eventually turned the 10 pages over to police, prompting the investigation that led to murder charges against Jacques Robidoux and his wife, who faces a separate trial.

After prosecutor Walter J. Shea offered the 10 pages as evidence, he read the jury a stipulation in which Jacques Robidoux acknowledged that he wrote the pages.

After Mingo's testimony, state police Sgt. Robert Horman detailed several seraches, in Attleboro, Seekonk and Maine, for Samuel. Horman is expected to resume testifying today, followed by officers from Maine. If time allows, prosecutors expect to call sect member David P. Corneau, who led authorities to Samuel's body in Maine's Baxter State Park.

Also yesterday, five other sect members indicated to the judge they may assert their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refuse to testify in the case. They are expected back Monday for another hearing on the subject.

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