Taunton, Mass. -- A woman accused of starving her baby to death to fulfill a religious prophecy was unable to leave the sect that had abused her for years and tried desperately to breast-feed the boy in the final days of his life, a psychologist testified Friday.
The psychologist, Ronald Ebert, was the first defense witness in the trial of Karen Robidoux for second-degree murder in the 1999 death of her son, Samuel.
Prosecutors allege the boy was starved over 51 days, dying just days before his first birthday.
Robidoux, 28, was a member of a tiny, Attleboro-based religious sect called "The Body,'' which rejects modern medicine.
Ebert, who examined Robidoux during 12 sessions starting in December 2002, said Robidoux told him she began withholding solid food from her 10-month-old son after her sister-in-law told her about a message she received from God: Karen was "too vain'' and God planned to punish her by taking one of the unborn twins she believed she was pregnant with.
Robidoux told Ebert that she was told she could save the unborn twin if she put herself on a high-fat diet and fed Samuel only her own breast milk.
"If she wasn't good, God would take her baby,'' Ebert said. "She had to do what they told her to do.''
Ebert said because Robidoux was pregnant, she was producing only trace amounts of breast milk. He said that Robidoux told him that Samuel became gaunt and weak, and was so hungry that he was eating flesh from her nipples.
During his testimony, Robidoux began sobbing uncontrollably and the judge called a 20-minute recess.
Ebert said Samuel's starvation came after years in which Karen Robidoux was frequently berated by other members of the sect, including her husband, Jacques Robidoux.
Ebert said he concluded Robidoux was suffering from severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and battered woman syndrome from emotional abuse.
"It's my opinion that she was not able to leave the group,'' he said.
Ebert acknowledged, however, that Robidoux noticed her son's deterioration quickly.
In June 2002, Jacques Robidoux was convicted of first-degree murder in Samuel's death and is serving a life sentence.
Karen Robidoux's trial was scheduled to continue Monday.