Taunton -- All it took was the man with a baby on his back to appear on the videotape. Sobs rang out. The judge called a recess. Karen E. Robidoux buried her head at the defendant's table and wept.
The videotape played by the prosecutor yesterday showed an Attleboro religious sect's festive "Tabernacle." Women joined in a circle to dance outside. Tents were pitched for families. Children's voices chirped faintly. Then the tape showed Robidoux's husband, Jacques Robidoux. In the baby carrier on his back was Samuel Robidoux. In just a few months, the boy, not yet a year old, would die from starvation.
It was a charged-up second day in the trial of Karen Robidoux, who is accused of committing murder by denying Samuel solid food for 51 days in 1999. The infant died after Robidoux fed him only breast milk. She had become pregnant again and was not producing enough milk to sustain Samuel.
As a member of a rigid Attleboro religious sect at the time, the defense claims Robidoux was forced to breast-feed after another sect member had a vision that said Robidoux must only breast-feed to atone for vanity in her appearance.
Meanwhile, sect member David Corneau, who led investigators to a Maine state park where the bodies of Samuel and his own child were buried, refused yesterday to testify. The move came despite an immunity agreement Corneau has with the commonwealth. Walter Shea, a Bristol County assistant district attorney, asked the judge to hold Corneau in contempt, saying Corneau's agreement compelled him to testify. A contempt charge could land Corneau in jail.
"If called as a witness, my client will refuse to testify . . . If he is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible, he cannot testify at this trial," Corneau's lawyer, Jay W. Carney Jr., argued. "David is prepared to go to jail, if necessary."
Shea and Carney found versions of Corneau's immunity agreement with variations in language. It may be worked out on Monday.
The trial has quickly centered on the question of free will. Could Karen Robidoux have left the sect with her children? Was she under its control, especially since she was married to one of its elders?
Nicole Kidson, 36, and her husband, Rick, were banished from the sect in the late 1990s. She testified about a vision -- known as a "leading" in sect jargon -- that banned eyeglasses. That left her and other sect members who needed glasses relying on family or friends to drive them places.
But Kidson -- whose father is sect founder Roland Robidoux -- eventually defied the rule, which led her family to be shut out of sect meetings. In the late 1990s, the sect leaders' visions became extreme, as members withdrew from what was viewed as satanic systems of the modern world, such as government, medicine and entertainment.
Shea seized upon acts of defiance -- such as Kidson's decision to buy eyeglasses -- to undermine the notion of brainwashing.
Under questioning by Robidoux's lawyer, Joseph Krowski, Kidson revealed that Karen Robidoux, in trying to disagree with sect leaders' positions, was viewed as weak and was trapped because the sect had cut off all contact with her outside friends.
"Where would she go? There isn't anybody else. It's like a prison. Especially with kids," Kidson said.
"There's no way she could have left it?" Krowski asked.
"I don't see how she could," Kidson said.
Yesterday, the jury heard testimony from Dennis Mingo, a sect member who eventually left -- even as his wife at the time, G. Michelle Mingo, remained devoted to the sect.
"Every action you took, whose choice was it?" Shea began rapid-fire questioning.
"It was my choice," Mingo said.
"When you paddled your children, whose choice was that?" Shea asked.
"My choice," Mingo said.
Did anyone hunt Mingo down when he chose to leave the group?
No, Mingo said.
But Krowski counter-punched. Did Mingo make choices while in the sect he would not make now?
Yes, Mingo said.
"I chose to do what I did by having faith in Jacques and Roland Robidoux," Mingo testified.
The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.