Taunton -- The maternal aunt of a baby boy who starved to death because his ultra-religious parents would not feed him solid food testified yesterday that she pleaded with the child's father to resume feeding him.
Renee Horton said her brother-in-law, Jacques Robidoux, defended the decision to feed the baby exclusively from his mother's breast by saying, "This is from God. This is what we have to do. And we have to have faith.''
Tragically, Robidoux's wife, Karen, was pregnant and unable to produce milk for her son, and Jacques Robidoux, 29, is on trial for first-degree murder for letting the 11-month-old boy starve over a two-month period.
Samuel Robidoux and another sect child, who was stillborn, eventually were unearthed from makeshift graves in Baxter State Park in Maine.
Karen Robidoux faces a second-degree murder charge at an upcoming trial.
In April 1999, after Samuel had become so weak he barely could move, his mother called a prayer meeting of the separatist religious sect based in Seekonk.
"Karen wanted to pray for Samuel as a group,'' her sister, Renee, also a member of the sect, testified in Bristol Superior Court.
The morning after the prayer session, Jacques Robidoux announced to the group that "Samuel is sleeping with God,'' according to the testimony of Renee Horton's husband, Daniel, who also was a member of the sect.
About one month earlier, Daniel Horton testified, Jacques Robidoux had heard a radio news report about a New York woman whose baby died while eating nothing but breast milk. Horton said Robidoux considered the news report an attempt by Satan to shake his confidence that God eventually would supply the milk for his wife to feed their baby.
"I know that Samuel is not going to die,'' Horton said Jacques Robidoux told him at the time.
As he has since the trial began one week ago, defense attorney Francis O'Boy cross-examined the witnesses to emphasize his contention that his client was being manipulated by sect founder Roland Robidoux, Jacques' father.
The elder Robidoux ostracized the group members, almost all of whom were his own extended family, if they ignored the "teachings'' or "leadings'' from God, according to witnesses.
In this case, Jacques Robidoux's sister, Michelle Mingo, had claimed that God told her in late February 1999 that Samuel should take nourishment only from his mother.
When Karen Robidoux initially balked at changing her healthy son's diet, Jacques told her, "If someone has a leading, we have to take it as if the apostle Paul had said it. And we have to do it unless God shows us otherwise,'' Daniel Horton testified.
After the baby finally starved to death, Daniel Horton became incensed and confronted Jacques Robidoux, saying, "I thought you said he wasn't going to die.''
Robidoux, who despite his young age had been made an elder of the sect by his father, said, "I didn't know he was going to die.''
Shortly after the death, Daniel Horton and his wife and children left the sect. Although they clearly felt that what had happened to Samuel was wrong, the Hortons still were torn by their decision to leave the group.
"Roland considered it (the group) to be God's camp,'' Horton said. "The attitude of the group was, if you left, you're leaving God.''