Emotions run high at sect trial

TAUNTON — During opening statements Thursday in Karen Robidoux’s infanticide trial, Joseph Krowski argued that Robidoux herself was a victim of the small authoritarian sect to which she belonged when her son died of starvation.

The prosecution in Robidoux’s second-degree murder trial countered that Samuel Robidoux’s slow death was an act of “vicious” cruelty for which Karen Robidoux should share responsibility.

Opening statements took a combined total of 80 minutes on the second day of Robidoux’s trial in Taunton Superior Court. The state was able to get to only one of four witnesses scheduled to be heard Thursday, suggesting that a trial timetable of eight-nine days projected on Wednesday may be unachievable.

Robidoux, 29, is charged in the murder of her infant son, Samuel, who died three days before his first birthday on April 26, 1999. Karen’s husband, Jacques, who was also a member of the religious sect known as “The Body,” was convicted of first-degree murder in his son’s death in June 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

Jacques’ father, Roland Robidoux, leads the sect, which is still practicing in Attleboro. It rejects modern medicine, courts, government, schools, eyeglasses and media.

Karen Robidoux’s lawyer, Brockton-based Joseph Krowski, delivered an opening statement that ran just short of an hour.

He concentrated intently on his client’s life history, noting that she first gave birth at 13 years old, and on her mental state at the time of her son’s death. Robidoux broke down for several minutes as Krowski spoke in detail of Samuel’s final days.

“Roland and Jacques would only allow Karen to see Samuel for breast feeding, which was every hour, 10 minutes on each nipple, and Samuel was crying, biting the nipples until they bled,” Krowski said. “Once the evidence is known, it will be obvious that it’s an outrage of justice this woman is on trial.

“Karen’s own mother, her immediate family, her entire world was telling her to do this. Karen was next; she was going to become the next victim of these people.”

Assistant Bristol County District Attorney and lead prosecutor Walter Shea spoke for about 25 minutes, stressing that Samuel’s death wasn’t just a typical murder, but a cruel torture.

“This wasn’t a stabbing, a shooting or a strangulation. If it was, it would’ve been kinder for Samuel,” Shea said to the nine men and seven women of the jury. “What happened to Samuel was vicious. This child was killed by his mother and father over a 51-day period, and that is the issue in this case, how Samuel died and who is responsible for it.

“There will be no argument at all in this trial that battered woman syndrome is not a problem in society. You the jury have to decide if it applied here.”

Samuel Robidoux was taken off solid food, which he had been eating for several months, when Jacques Robidoux’s sister, Michelle Mingo, allegedly told sect members she had “a vision” that Samuel should only be fed his mother’s breast milk.

To compensate, Karen Robidoux, who was pregnant at the time, was forced to drink at least a gallon of almond milk every morning.

A former sect member, Dennis Mingo, Michelle’s ex-husband, was on the witness stand for more than four hours Thursday, describing the practices of Roland Robidoux and the sect in disciplining children, including his own five and at least 10 others who were in the mid-1990s a part of “The Body.”

“Roland’s saying was, ‘two weeks and a paddle and I can straighten out and correct any problem with a child,’” Mingo said. “We spanked our children just to please Roland, not for our kids’ sake.

“I regret that extremely, very much so. That is the thing I am most ashamed about as a person.”

Mingo said Roland Robidoux’s philosophy of discipline was “to break the child’s spirit.”

Mingo admitted to Krowski under cross-examination that the spankings started on children as young as 2 and 3 months old, or “as soon as they could crawl.”

Mingo also said that his wife carried a paddle attached to a rope around her neck, so the children would always be aware of the consequences of misbehaving — which included infants crawling off a blanket or crying, according to Krowski.

Krowski also asked Mingo if Karen Robidoux was a prisoner in the sect, to which Mingo replied after several seconds, “Yes, we were made to feel that if we left, we were turning our back on God.

“When I left the group, I felt something would happen to me,” Mingo said. “I’d be struck down or something. To this day, I have trouble making decisions, five years later.”

It was Dennis Mingo who first alerted police to the deaths of Samuel and another sect child, who was stillborn, after he found a journal written by Jacques Robidoux describing Samuel’s final weeks of life.

A current sect member, David Corneau, was arrested Wednesday night in Attleboro after Judge Elizabeth Donovan issued a bench warrant that afternoon.

Corneau was scheduled to appear Wednesday and testify as a prosecution witness Thursday. He was released Thursday afternoon under the condition that he appear today to testify.

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