Taunton -- Karen E. Robidoux was emotionally battered and so isolated from the outside world that she sincerely believed that if she began feeding her dying son, God would kill the child growing inside her, a forensic psychologist testified yesterday.
Robidoux, who allegedly let her infant Samuel starve to death in 1999 to comply with a religious prophecy of a fellow sect member, spent her entire adult life trapped inside a "destructive cult" whose members considered her the weak link in their direct connection with God, said Ronald S. Ebert, a forensic psychologist testifying as a defense witness in Bristol Superior Court, where Robidoux is on trial for second-degree murder.
"She was a battered woman. She had been battered by the group and by her husband," Ebert told Robidoux's defense lawyer, Joseph Krowski. "She was the sole focus of the rage of the group. She was the victim of the group. She was the goat of the group. . . . They were going to change her, or somebody was going to die."
Robidoux sobbed during Ebert's testimony, prompting the judge to call a recess.
Ebert said the emotional violence that began when Robidoux became pregnant at 15 with her second child reached its climax in early 1999, when she was married to Jacques Robidoux, an elder in the Attleboro sect that believed that their leader, Roland Robidoux, spoke directly to God.
Another member of the sect, Michelle Mingo, had a "leading" that God was angry with Karen Robidoux for being vain and wanted her to only breast-feed Samuel while she drank just a gallon of almond milk daily.
Mingo also said that if Karen, who was pregnant at the time, did not comply, God would kill one of the twins she believed she was then carrying. She was not having twins, but gave birth to one child in the summer of 1999.
Ebert said Karen Robidoux was also required to breast-feed Samuel for 20 minutes every hour, 24 hours a day, and that sleep deprivation severely impaired her ability to think properly. "The sleep deprivation alone would be more than most of us could take," Ebert said. "It's hard to imagine somebody could function, could make reasonable choices."
He said Robidoux believed running away from the Attleboro home where she was then living would not protect her. "God would find her," he said.
Ebert, who said he has interviewed Robidoux for about 24 hours since December 2002, said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when Samuel was starving to death.
But under cross-examination by Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea, Ebert agreed that someone who had killed her own child would also have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ebert testified as the first witness for the defense. The prosecution ended its case yesterday after calling nine witnesses, including five former sect members who said they also believed God spoke directly to Roland Robidoux.