Taunton -- A jury of nine men and seven women were selected yesterday to decide the fate of an ex-sect mother charged with second-degree murder in the death of her infant son.
The trial of Karen Robidoux, including opening statements and testimony from four of the prosecution's witnesses, is scheduled to go forward around 9:15 a.m. today. Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan told the 12 jurors and four alternates that the trial is expected to last eight to nine days.
Robidoux's son, Samuel, starved to death almost five years ago, allegedly at the hands of his parents, then both members of an Attleboro-based religious sect known as "The Body." Karen's husband, Jacques, was convicted in June 2002 of first-degree murder in his son's death and sentenced to life in prison.
Samuel Robidoux was three days short of his first birthday when he died on April 26, 1999.
The sect, led by Jacques' father, Roland Robidoux, rejects modern medicine, courts, government, schools, television and newspapers.
"The Body" broke up after the arrest of three sect members, including Karen and Jacques, and the publicity that followed.
However, according to an expected defense witness, Robert Pardon, of the New England Institute of Religious Research, it has reassembled and has at least 12 members living together in Attleboro.
The current members include Roland Robidoux and five immediate family members of Karen Robidoux, including her mother. Her father was also still associated with the sect when he died last March.
"The sect had a new individual join this year, through marriage, but all the children have been adopted out and are spread across the county," Pardon said. "There are no kids with the sect in this state, but two members left the state with their child and no one is sure where they are."
According to Pardon, the sect's leader feels no guilt over the death of Samuel Robidoux.
"Roland Robidoux believes this trial will completely vindicate him and the sect and that he acted appropriately," Pardon said. "He feels a lack of faith on Karen's part led to Samuel's death.
"I believe when the evidence comes out, it will be obvious Karen's mind was controlled and manipulated. We hope Karen will be vindicated when this trial concludes."
Karen Robidoux's lawyer, Brockton-based Joseph Krowski, hopes to prove to the jury that Robidoux was as much a victim as her son and that she would have been next to die. At the time of her arrest, Robidoux weighed less than 100 pounds.
"Her own mother just rubbed Samuel's feet when Karen begged for food, but Karen isn't the same woman we saw four years ago," Krowski said.
"They've already had their pound of flesh for Samuel's death and it's time to leave Karen alone.
"This case is as much about religion as Star Trek," Krowski said. "It's about cruelty, torture and power over a young brainwashed woman and her helpless child."
Karen Robidoux, who is 29, left the courtroom yesterday shortly before 4 p.m., speaking briefly as TV cameras and reporters gravitated toward her.
"It went as best as it could be expected (today)," she said. "See you tomorrow."
Since being granted bail in October, Robidoux has been living with sisters not associated with the sect in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
In court yesterday, she looked healthy, dressed in a sweater, black pants and boots. She conferred with Krowski throughout the day and jotted notes regularly on a legal pad.
Krowski said he did not expect Karen Robidoux to take the stand during the case, but that he had prepared her to do so if necessary.
Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea, who is prosecuting the case for Bristol County, informed the court yesterday that he planned on calling 11 witnesses, including four today, and that his case should conclude Monday.
Shea said his today's witness list includes Mass. State Police Lt. Robert Horton; Dennis Mingo, a former sect member whose wife Michelle allegedly informed Karen that God had instructed her that Samuel should no longer be fed; David Corneau; and the taped testimony of Jacques Robidoux from his trial last year.
Earlier this month, Krowski called for Jacques to testify. Jacques replied that if summoned to the stand, he would remain mum by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Corneau, whose stillborn son was buried with Samuel in Maine, was summoned but failed to appear in courtyesterday.
Donovan issued a bench warrant for him to appearthis morning.
"We expect him to be here, but we can prove this case without him," Shea said. "He's not a cooperative witness anyway, but we never anticipate bad news."