Sect mother may not testify

The Pawtucket Times/January 27, 2004
By Jeff Sullivan

Taunton -- Defense attorney Joseph Krowski would neither confirm nor deny Monday rumors that his client, Karen Robidoux, will take the stand this week in her trial on second-degree murder charges in the starvation death of her infant son.

"I would tell you if she was or wasn't, but I just don't know right now," Krowski said. "I thought about it all weekend. I spent the afternoon at my daughter's house Sunday and I couldn't stop thinking about it."

Krowski said it may not be necessary to hear from Robidoux in light of testimony given Monday by Dr. Eli Newburger.

Newburger, pediatrics director at Children's Hospital in Boston, said that when Robidoux sharedwith her mother, Vivian Daneau,her fears about her son, Samuel, starving to death, that Daneau rubbed the boy's feet in hopes of improving circulation and told her daughter to continue withholding food from the child.

Samuel died just three days before his first birthday, on April 26, 1999.

Karen Robidoux's husband, Jacques, who was a member along with Karen of the religious sect known as "The Body," was convicted of first-degree murder in his son's death in June 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

Jacques' father, Roland Robidoux, leads the sect, which is still practicing with at least 12 members in Attleboro. It rejects modern medicine, courts, government, schools, eyeglasses, media and holidays.

Krowski's two-hour cross-examination of Newburger, the prosecution's expert medical witness, was easily the four-day trial's most heated.

Newburger, who admitted to Krowski he was being paid $450 an hour by the state to assist in the case, was adamant that Karen Robidoux was aware she was killing her son.

Krowski has based his case around the contention that Robidoux, who broke down in court for the third straight day Monday, was brainwashed by the sect and wasn't in her right mind.

A member of the sect, Jacques' sister, Michelle Mingo, allegedly shared with sect members a vision in which God told her that Karen could only feed Samuel breast milk or that she would lose one of the twins she was then pregnant with.

"She (Karen) knew this baby was going to die and she knew what Samuel needed to live," Newburger said.

"On some level, yes, she was confused and paralyzed, but she knew her child was dying. Karen was acutely aware of the unfairness and the manifest fact that God wasn't coming down to rescue Samuel."

According to Mingo's alleged revelation, Robidoux could only breast feed Samuel for 10 minutes on each nipple, each hour. Robidoux was also put on a strict diet of almond milk, of which she drank more than a gallon each morning.

Earlier in the trial, Mingo's sister and ex-husband said Mingo was lying about her vision because of an extreme jealously she had over Karen Robidoux's physical appearance.

In addition to Newburger, medical examiner Margaret Greenwald and former sect member Daniel Horton testified Monday.

Despite being called by the prosecution, Horton's testimony appeared helpful to Robidoux.

"I'm ashamed and disgusted," Horton said. "I regret every day that I didn't step in to help Karen and Samuel.

"I was so beaten down. I couldn't make a decision for myself or my wife and four children. I had to check with the group, with Roland and Jacques. My life was taken away; it was like I didn't have a choice.

"We lived in this fear atmosphere," Horton said. "I didn't feel able to walk away. It just wasn't possible to me. I thought I was doing right by God. It's foolish and stupid now to look back and wonder how you got to that point."

The prosecution, led by Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea, was at the trial's outset expected to conclude its argument by Monday, but is running at least a day behind schedule.

It's not likely that the defense will call its first witness until Wednesday morning at the earliest. Krowski said Monday that the original timetable of Friday for closing arguments looks unrealistic.

Early next week seems more plausible for that phase of the trial, he said.

One prosecution witness who will not be testifying is current sect member David Corneau, who was arrested last Wednesday when he failed to appear in court.

He then refused to testify based on religious beliefs, despite having agreed to take the stand for both Robidoux murder trials in an immunity agreement he signed with the prosecution more than two years ago.

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan said Monday morning that Corneau didn't have to take the stand, but that his testimony from Jacques' trial would be admitted into evidence.

Attorney Francis O'Boy, who defended Jacques Robidoux, sat in on the morning session Monday and spoke briefly with Krowski. O'Boy said before the trial that the state had no business charging Karen Robidoux with any crime, much less murder.

"The defense really has a shot to win this trial," O'Boy said.

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