The Body Archive

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Massachusetts Supreme Court take up cult father appeal

BOSTON – The fate of former Attleboro religious cult father Jacques Robidoux, who once thought the court system was a manifestation of Satan, is now in the hands of the state’s highest court.

The state Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments Friday that Robidoux, 34, was brainwashed by his family’s religious beliefs when he starved his 1-year-old son to death in April 1999, thinking he was obeying God’s orders.

He was convicted in June 2002 of first-degree murder and is now serving a life prison term without the possibility of parole.

He is asking the court to overturn his verdict and grant him a new trial or reduce the charges.

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

“Jacques Robidoux was not competent to stand trial. He was never tested and he was never evaluated,” his appellate lawyer, Janet Pumphrey, told the justices.

Pumphrey argued that Robidoux should have been declared incompetent to stand trial and that his trial should have been delayed until he was found competent.

She also argued that Robidoux’s trial lawyer should have relied on an insanity defense because the events occurred while he was heavily influenced since early childhood by the religious beliefs of his parents.

But some members of the court appeared skeptical about that argument.

Justice John McGreaney noted that Robidoux chose not to be examined by a forensic psychologist and made a rational decision not to use an insanity defense.

“He’s a very, very bright man. But he was psychotic. He was delusional,” Pumphrey replied.

Robidoux did not want to be examined by a forensic psychologist, Pumphrey argued, because he believed the medical system was one of “Satan’s counterfeit systems.”

Pumphrey also argued that a jury acquitted Robidoux’s wife, Karen, of second-degree murder after she used a form of battered women’s syndrome defense and argued she was brainwashed by the cult.

The Robidouxs at the time belonged to a close-knit family religious sect which called themselves “The Body.” The group rejected modern medicine and schools, among other mainstream institutions, including the legal system.

Their son, Samuel, was starved for 51 days before he died because Robidoux thought he was following orders of God received by his sister Michelle Mingo.

Samuel’s body was kept in a bulkhead of one of the family homes for about three months before it was buried, along with the body of a stillborn cousin, in a state park in Maine.

Pumphrey said Robidoux loved his son and never believed any harm would come to him. If he died, Robidoux was so delusional he thought he could “put his hands on Samuel and bring him back to life.”

But Sharon Sullivan-Puccini, a special assistant district attorney, argued that evidence indicates Robidoux had the ability to make rational decisions at the time of the events and was competent to stand trial.

“The defendant was not brainwashed since childhood as he claims,” Sullivan-Puccini told the court, adding that the group’s beliefs only became “radical” around 1996.

She said Robidoux made a conscious decision to take the stand in his own defense, in which he took responsibility for his son’s death saying, “the buck stops here. No one could make me do anything.”

Sullivan-Puccini said Robidoux’s trial lawyer, Francis O’Boy of Taunton, used a defense questioning Samuel’s cause of death and was also able to “humanize” Robidoux by trying to show he was a scapegoat of the cult.

McGreaney agreed saying, “I really think that his defense was not so bad.”

Responding to arguments about the jury verdict in Karen Robidoux’s case, Sullivan-Puccini said the jury may have rejected her defense because they convicted her of assault and battery on a child.

The court gave no indication on when it might rule on Robidoux’s appeal.

Former sect leader appeals conviction in son’s starvation death

BOSTON –After Jacques Robidoux was charged with murder in the starvation death of his infant son, he refused to be examined by a psychotherapist, citing his belief that modern medicine was one of Satan’s “counterfeit systems.”

Robidoux, who was a leader of a religious sect that rejected modern medicine, said he believed he was fulfilling God’s prophesy and expected a miracle as he watched his 11-month-old infant son starve to death.

Now, Robidoux is appealing his murder conviction, claiming he was mentally ill and his former lawyer should have used an insanity defense. The state Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear Robidoux’s appeal Friday. Robidoux is asking the high court to grant him a new trial or reduce his conviction from first-degree murder to assault and battery or manslaughter.

Robidoux, 34, was one of the leaders of a small Attleboro cult known as “The Body.” The group started as a Bible study group of two large extended families based in southeastern Massachusetts, but it developed into a sect with strict controls on its followers. Members of the sect rejected modern institutions, including the medical establishment, public education, the legal system.

Robidoux and his wife, Karen, were charged with murder after their son, Samuel, died three days before his first birthday in April 1999.

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

Jacques Robidoux testified that he and his wife believed they were following a message from God when they began feeding Samuel only his mother’s breast milk. Prosecutors said the boy starved over the next 51 days because his mother had become pregnant again and stopped producing enough milk to nourish him.

“Jacques was under the delusional brainwashing of this cult, and he was incapable of independent thought,” said Janet Pumphrey, Robidoux’s appellate lawyer.

Pumphrey says Robidoux’s trial lawyer should have used an insanity defense or at least presented testimony from experts to testify about Robidoux’s mental impairment.

“Jacques adamantly believed that God himself had ordered him to so restrict Samuel’s food that Samuel starved to death. He believed that no harm would come to Samuel, despite his failing condition, and that, if Samuel died, he could bring him back to life. Sincerely holding these insane beliefs and expectations more than amounts to a disorder of thought and perception grossly impairing judgment,” Pumphrey argues in court documents.

But prosecutors argue that Robidoux was not delusional, did not have a mental impairment and made Robidoux made “fully informed tactical choices” during the trial when he decided against using an insanity defense.

“He appreciated the wrongfulness of his conduct,” said Special Assistant District Attorney Sharon Sullivan-Puccini. “It’s so clear from everything he did that he knew from the first day that Samuel was thirsty and hungry. He could hear it in his cries.”

Francis O’Boy, Robidoux’s trial lawyer, said Robidoux rejected the idea of using an insanity defense.

“We certainly thought about it, but he would have none of it,” O’Boy said Thursday.

Jacques Robidoux is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. A jury acquitted Karen Robidoux of second-degree murder, but convicted her of assault and battery charges in her son’s death. She was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and released in 2004.

Jacques Robidoux’s sister, Michelle Mingo, whose self-described vision from God prompted the couple to withhold food from their son, pleaded guilty to an accessory charge and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years. She was freed in 2004.