Witnesses describe baby's suffering

Starved Robidoux infant said to endure pain, scurvy

Boston Globe/January 27, 2004
By John Ellement

Taunton -- For 51 days, the once-smiling infant born to Jacques and Karen Robidoux, the child they named Samuel, suffered as he starved to death, his once healthy bones weak and pitted by the onset of scurvy, prosecution witnesses testified yesterday during the murder trial of Karen Robidoux.

The Robidouxs were members of a religious sect in the Attleboro area who refused to feed their son because another member of the sect, Jacques's sister, Michelle Mingo, received a "leading" from God in March 1999 that Samuel should only be breastfed to punish his mother for being vain.

The child, who had begun eating solid food, died three days short of his first birthday in April 1999 and was buried in a homemade casket in Baxter State Park in Maine alongside the remains of a stillborn son of another member of the sect.

Jacques Robidoux was tried separately and convicted of first-degree murder. Yesterday, during the third day of Karen Robidoux's trial for second-degree murder, Brookline pediatrician Eli Newberger described what the infant endured during the nearly two months he went with little or no breast milk and no solid food.

"It would not be pleasant. There would have been both physical and emotional suffering," the former Children's Hospital pediatrician and pioneering specialist in child abuse testified.

Newberger said the child would have steadily lost weight, been unable to keep his extremities warm, lost the ability to shed tears, and would have cried often, until he became too weak to move at all.

Newberger, who said he reviewed numerous police and mental health reports in the case, said that Karen Robidoux knew her son was facing "disaster" and could have saved him if she reached outside the sect, whose members had isolated themselves from society.

But under relentless and sometimes sarcastic questioning by Karen Robdioux's defense attorney, Joseph Krowski, Newberger generally agreed with the defense argument that Karen Robidoux was an emotionally battered woman who could not overcome years of indoctrination in the male-dominated sect and act against the orders of her husband and other sect members.

"There's no question that people can be controlled in that setting," Newberger told Krowski, who chided the doctor for charging prosecutors $450 an hour for his testimony.

Dr. Elizabeth Woodward, chief medical examiner for the state of Maine who performed an autopsy on Samuel Robidoux in October 2000, concluded the infant died from "severe malnutrition due to starvation."

Woodward agreed with Krowski's thesis that Karen Robidoux was undernourished herself and could not properly feed her son because she was pregnant with her fourth child and had been ordered by her husband, at Mingo's insistence, to only drink a gallon of almond milk daily.

A Maine forensic anthropologist, Marcella Sorg, said she examined Samuel's skeletal remains and found pitting on portions of the bones, evidence of infantile scurvy due to the lack of Vitamin C.

Krowski also repeatedly questioned a former sect member, Dennis Horton, about the emotional control that Jacques Robidoux and the leader of the sect, Jacques's father, Roland, had over him.

Krowski repeatedly compared Horton's situation -- as a man in a male-dominated sect -- with Karen Robidoux, who was described by another witness as only a "baby machine" for the sect.

Horton said he tried four times to leave the group, but returned each time because he feared he would lose "God's protection" and be adrift in "Satan's world."

Horton, in whose house Jacques and Karen Robidoux were living in the spring of 1999, said he saw Samuel Robidoux's health decline, but did nothing because he believed it was God's will.

"I feel foolish," said Horton. "I feel stupid."

Also yesterday, Bristol Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea confirmed that he will not be calling David Corneau as a witness. Corneau built the coffin for Samuel Robidoux and led police to the infant's grave.

Corneau testified against Jacques Robidoux but decided he would rather be imprisoned than testify against Karen Robidoux for religious reasons, according to his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.

The jury will be presented with a summary of Corneau's testimony before a grand jury as well as his previous testimony during Jacques Robidoux's 2002 trial.

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