Lawyer hopes case prompts more study of cults

ATTLEBORO — The lawyer for former Attleboro religious sect member Karen Robidoux said he hopes the case will spur more research into mind control and cults.

Mind Control

“Mind control” or “brainwashing” refers to the unethical use of persuasion methods with the aim of recruiting people into joining or remaining involved with a group, movement, or cause.

Most cult apologists – people who defend cults – claim that mind control/brainwashing does not exist.

“A remarkable thing about cult mind control is that it’s so ordinary in the tactics and strategies of social influence employed. They are variants of well-known social psychological principles of compliance, conformity, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, framing, emotional manipulation, and others that are used on all of us daily to entice us: to buy, to try, to donate, to vote, to join, to change, to believe, to love, to hate the enemy. Cult mind control is not different in kind from these everyday varieties, but in its greater intensity, persistence, duration, and scope. One difference is in its greater efforts to block quitting the group, by imposing high exit costs, replete with induced phobias of harm, failure, and personal isolation.”
- What messages are behind today’s cults?, by Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D., Former President of the American Psychological Association

Brockton defense lawyer Joseph Krowski Sr. said he researched numerous cases leading up to Robidoux’s trial, and found there was little information on mind control.

“I don’t know why there isn’t. There have been cults in the United States for several years,” Krowski said Wednesday.

“I think after this case, there will be people taking a look at this. Hopefully there will be more study on mind control,” he said.

Robidoux, 28, was acquitted Tuesday of second-degree murder, but was found guilty of assault and battery in connection with the starvation death of her 1-year-old son, Samuel, to obey a sect prophecy.

The jury foreman said the prosecution failed to prove that she had the intent to kill her child jointly with her husband, Jacques, who is now in prison serving a life sentence for the boy’s death in April 1999.

Krowski had argued that Karen Robidoux was psychologically and emotionally battered by her husband and other sect members who believed they took orders from God.

Robidoux, he argued, was isolated at an early age from the outside world by her family, especially after she had two out-of-wedlock children by the time she was 16.

Her world grew more isolated when her strongly religious parents, Roger and Vivian Daneau, joined with Roland Robidoux and his family.

Beginning in the late 1990s, the families grew more insular, and rejected the outside world and institutions such as modern medicine, schools, and government.

The Body

In early press reports, The Body was referred to generically as the “Attleboro cult” or “Attleboro sect.”

The group’s doctrines and practices have been heavily influenced by the teachings of Carol Balizet’s Home in Zion Ministries

The Body is a cult, both sociologicall and theologically. Theologically it a cult of Christianity

Two psychologists testified that Karen Robidoux exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress and other behaviors that diminished her mental ability to make decisions.

Krowski said his defense differed from an insanity defense because he was not arguing that his client was mentally ill or insane.

“The main issue was shared intent,” Krowski said, explaining that Jacques Robidoux and other sect members were responsible and had victimized his client.

During his closing argument, Krowski slammed the prosecution, comparing it to punishing a kidnapping victim for the kidnapping.

Rejecting the argument that Robidoux was a victim of mind control, the prosecution said she and others were free to leave the group without any fear of retribution.

Prosecutor Walter Shea argued that Robidoux and her husband were aware her child was starving and would die, and did nothing to prevent it.

The defense that a person was not responsible for a crime because they were the victims of mind control has not always been successful.

Teenage sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, 18, was convicted in December in the Washington, D.C., sniper attacks when the jury rejected his insanity defense.

Malvo’s lawyers argued he was susceptible to brainwashing by convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad, 42, because his mother’s frequent moves and uprooted lifestyle created an unstable environment when he was growing up.

Marc Perlin, associate dean at Suffolk University Law School, said to win a conviction for a crime, prosecutors must prove the defendant had the requisite state of mind to commit the crime.

For a defendant not to be found responsible, Perlin said, “You clearly need that evidence of outside control for the jury to buy it.”

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