TAUNTON — Michelle Mingo, the woman whose prophecy led to the starvation murder of her baby nephew, yesterday acknowledged her role in his death before walking out of court with her “spiritual husband,” apparently headed back to the Attleboro religious sect whose teachings cost Samuel Robidoux his life and Mingo custody of her five children.
Mingo, 38, wearing the cobalt blue jumper required of female sect members, has been jailed since May 2000, initially for contempt of court for refusing to testify before a Bristol County grand jury investigating Samuel’s death. Bail of $50,000 was later set, but was never posted.
She was freed yesterday after pleading guilty to two counts of being an accessory before the fact of assault and battery on a child under 14 and was sentenced to time served by Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan.
Mingo’s release follows the conviction earlier this month of Karen E. Robidoux on assault and battery charges in the starvation death of her son. Based on Mingo’s prophecy, Robidoux and her husband, Jacques, withheld solid food from their son for 51 days. Jacques Robidoux was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his son, who died in Mingo’s home.
During the 15-minute hearing yesterday in Bristol Superior Court, Mingo answered a series of questions with “yes, ma’am,” a nod of the head, or a mutter of agreement. Sitting in the back of the courtroom was Timothy Daneau, who former cult members have said is now “spiritually married” to Mingo. Mingo and Daneau were hustled out a side door of the courthouse, got into a maroon Dodge minivan, and drove off without speaking.
Mingo was a member of a sect led by her father, Roland Robidoux, and her brother, Jacques, when she got what she called a “leading” from God in March 1999 that Samuel should be denied solid food as a way to “correct” his mother.
Mingo, a heavyset woman described by former cult members as being especially fond of using corporal punishment on children of other sect members, said God wanted Karen Robidoux to drink a gallon of almond milk a day, an order that former cult members said sprang from Mingo’s jealousy of the petite Robidoux.
“This case is now over,” said Walter Shea, the Bristol County assistant district attorney who has overseen the case since 1999, when Mingo’s former husband, Dennis, alerted authorities about the treatment and death of Samuel Robidoux. “It was worth it,” Shea said.
Shea said that when the investigation began, authorities did not know if Samuel Robidoux existed and came to learn about the death of a second sect child, Jeremiah Corneau.
Eventually, pressure from authorities led sect member David Corneau to assist investigators, and in 2000 he led them to Baxter State Park in Maine, where Samuel Robidoux’s remains were found buried in a wooden box next to a box holding Jeremiah Corneau’s remains.
Prompted by Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr., the state Department of Social Services and Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Nasif removed a dozen children from sect members, who did not believe in medicine and gave birth to children in their homes, and forced sect member Rebecca Corneau to give birth in a state hospital in 2000.
“I really believe we saved that child’s life,” Shea said yesterday.
Rebecca and her husband, David, lost custody of four of their children. Mingo’s five children are now in the custody of her former husband, who divorced her while she was jailed. The courts also terminated the parental rights of Karen Robidoux, sending two of her children to live with their biological fathers and allowing the adoption of the two children she had with Jacques.
“It’s a real miracle Karen would even talk with us,” said Pardon. “She wants to try and put her life together.”
Pardon reviewed the sect’s extensive written accounts of their beliefs and weekly meetings, including a journal kept by Mingo.
In April 1999, Mingo wrote: “Our main desire should be for God’s purposes not Samuel’s discomfort. We put Samuel in God’s hands and leave him there. What can we do for Samuel? NOTHING! God is the master. We are his servants.” Later that month, Mingo wrote: “We learned how to give Samuel into God’s hand. Karen had to learn to receive correction from whoever the Lord chooses.”
According to Pardon, the sect continues to function, is still led by Roland Robidoux, and has added another family to its membership.