TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) A woman accused of starving her baby to death to fulfill a religious prophecy broke down in tears Friday as she listened to a defense psychologist recount her description of desperately trying to breast feed her son in the final days of his life.
Karen Robidoux, 28, sobbed so uncontrollably that Taunton Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan called a 20-minute recess during the testimony of Ronald Ebert, a forensic psychologist who examined Robidoux during 12 sessions starting in December 2002.
Ebert was the first defense witness in Robidoux’s trial for second-degree murder in the 1999 death of her son, Samuel, after the prosecution rested its case Friday. Prosecutors allege the boy was starved over 51 days, dying just days before his first birthday.
Ebert said Robidoux told him she began withholding solid food from her 10-month-old son Samuel 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 killing one of the twins she believed she was pregnant with at the time.
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Several months later, Robidoux gave birth to a baby boy; she had not been pregnant with twins.
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.”
But Ebert said because Robidoux was pregnant, she was producing only trace amounts of breast milk. She told him she continued to try to breast feed Samuel every hour, as called for by the prophecy. He said that Robidoux told him that Samuel became gaunt and weak, and was so hungry that he was literally eating flesh from her nipples.
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. He said other sect members thought she was too thin and too pretty, and was not raising her children properly.
”She was the victim of the group. She was the goat of the group,” he said.
Ebert said Robidoux felt she could not get away from the group, which was made up of three extended families. He also said the group isolated itself from society and modern culture, shunning doctors, banks, televisions, radios and newspapers.
Ebert said Robidoux was severely depressed and physically exhausted when her husband and other members of the group pressured her to follow the prophecy. She was breast-feeding Samuel as well as another one of her children and was pregnant with another child.
”She was under enormous stress,” said Ebert.
He 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. ”This was a battered woman. She was battered by this group and battered by her husband.”
During cross-examination by prosecutor Walter Shea, Ebert acknowledged that Robidoux noticed her son’s deterioration quickly. She told him that one week after she began withholding solid food from Samuel, he was no longer able to roll over. Before that, he had been an active baby, Ebert said Robidoux told him.
Ebert also acknowledged that about a week before her trial began earlier this month, he wrote in a report that it was not possible for him to ”definitively label” her state of mind.
In June 2002, Jacques Robidoux was convicted of first-degree murder in Samuel’s death.
Karen Robidoux’s trial was scheduled to continue Monday.