Attleboro sect member guilty of murder in son's starving death

Providence Journal/June 14, 2002

Taunton, Mass. -- A leader of an Attleboro religious sect who said he believed he was fulfilling God's prophesy as he watched his infant son starve to death was found guilty late this morning of first-degree murder.

Jacques Robidoux, 29, testified in his own defense that he was following God's instructions and thought a miracle would save the boy as he withheld solid food for 51 days. Samuel died died April 26, 1999, three days shy of his first birthday.

Robidoux showed no reaction at the verdict, reached in the second day of deliberations.

The jury could have considered a conviction on lesser charges, including second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault and battery.

Robidoux is one of the leaders of a small sect known as "The Body,'' a group that rejects modern medicine, government and science.

Prosecutors say Robidoux's sister, Michelle Mingo, who was also in the sect, concocted the "prophesy'' out of jealousy. She said God had told her that Robidoux's wife, Karen, needed to overcome her vanity and feed her child only her own breast milk.

During his trial, Robidoux choked back tears as he described how his son went from a healthy, 10-month-old boy taking his first steps to a weak, emaciated baby who could no longer crawl.

"His cry wasn't a normal baby's cry,'' Robidoux said. "He ground his teeth. Towards the end, he would often bite down on Karen's nipple. At times, his eyes would roll up in the back of his head. His skin on his chest changed to a dark color. He began getting a white, chalky substance in his diaper.''

Karen Robidoux, 26, faces a separate trial on a second-degree murder charge. Michelle Mingo faces trial on an accessory charge.

The defense had maintained the child could have died from some other cause but used only two witnesses: Robidoux and a forensic specialist who said he could not determine starvation was the certain cause of death.

Prosecutors say the child starved because his mother had become pregnant again and stopped producing enough milk to nourish the boy.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Francis O'Boy urged jurors to recognize that Robidoux acknowledged his mistakes and find him innocent. He noted that the sect did not believe in modern medicine, and he suggested it might have been ignorance on the part of Robidoux that led to the boy's death.

"He's no John Gotti,'' O'Boy told jurors. "He's somebody who's willing to come before you and say, 'I did something wrong.' Was that something wrong the cause of death? You've got to decide.''

The sect is made up of about 40 members of two large extended families who lived in communal homes in Attleboro and Seekonk, about 20 miles south of Boston.

Former members testified that they thought of themselves as "God's chosen people,'' and shunned modern life. Televisions, checkbooks, jewelry and eyeglasses were not allowed. Eventually, group members threw all of their books away, except for the Bible.

Robidoux acknowledged at the trial that he realized his son's health was deteriorating because of malnutrition.

He said he never sought medical attention for his son. Instead, he, his wife and other members of the group prayed for Samuel.

Robidoux said he did not think Samuel would die. He said he believed God would perform a miracle -- through him -- to save the boy.

In late 1999, another sect member, David Corneau, led authorities to Samuel's body. His remains were found buried next to the remains of his infant cousin, Jeremiah, in Baxter State Park in Maine.

Corneau received immunity in exchange for his testimony against Robidoux.

Corneau and his wife, Rebecca, were not charged in the death of their son, Jeremiah. They said the boy was stillborn.

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