TAUNTON, Mass. — A jury today cleared a former Attleboro sect member of murder in the 1999 starving death of her infant son, finding her guilty on the lesser charge of assault and battery.
The decision means that Karen E. Robidoux will serve no additional prison time, since she already exceeded the penalty after being held on bail until her release last year.
After deliberating about seven hours after two days, the jury chose the least serious of three choices offered by Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan in her instructions.
In addition to the second-degree murder charge brought by the prosecution, Donovan told jurors they could opt for a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which carried a sentence ranging from probation to 20 years in prison. Or, if the jury decided the prosecutor did not meet that burden of proof, it could find Robidoux guilty of the charge of assault and battery.
When the jury announced today that it had found Robidoux not guilty on the charge of murdering her 11-month-old son, Samuel, she reached over and hugged her defense lawyer, Joseph F. Krowski.
Later, speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Robidoux said of the verdict, “It hasn’t really sunk in. I’m just glad that the nightmare door is now shut.”
The second-degree murder charge had carried the possibility of a life sentence with parole after 15 years.
Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea, who prosecuted the case, said he did not agree with the verdict.
Jurors had heard Shea, shouting at times, say Robidoux was responsible for letting her son die in front of her, no matter the pressure from sect members who administered a “vision” from God that Robidoux must only breast-feed the baby to atone for vanity. Samuel died after being fed only breast milk for 51 days.
Her husband, sect elder Jacques Robidoux, enforced the starvation vision. He is now serving life in prison on a first-degree murder conviction in the baby’s death.
Krowski had implored jurors to see that the rigid sect brainwashed Robidoux, cutting her off from the outside world, modern influences and friends. He cited two psychologists who testified that Robidoux suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, memory loss, and depression that clouded judgment and reduced her ability to act.
After the verdict today, Shea said, “I don’t really see a difference between the actions of the father and the mother.”
Karen Robidoux, who has four other children and who did not take the stand in her own defense, also said after the verdict, “I’m very thankful that people I didn’t even know heard my story, and everything worked out.”
– With reports from Journal staff writer Michael McKinney