Taunton -- Attleboro cult mom Karen Robidoux walked out of court a free woman yesterday after a jury acquitted her of murder but found her guilty of assault for the 1999 starvation death of her baby boy.
"I'm just glad that the nightmare door is now shut," Robidoux said before paying a $90 court-imposed fine and walking out of Taunton Superior Court. "I am very thankful that people I didn't even know heard my story and everything worked out."
The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for seven hours before finding her not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter. They convicted her of assault and battery and Judge Elizabeth Donovan sentenced the 28-year-old ex-cultist to the maximum sentence of 2 1/2 years in jail. Robidoux already has served three years so she was credited for time served and released.
Robidoux's attorney, Joseph Krowski Sr., argued during the trial his client was brainwashed by the sect and forced through intimidation and "psychological battering" to comply with a "prophecy" that commanded her to stop feeding her 11-month-old son Samuel. The toddler starved for 51 days and died three days before his first birthday in April 1999. His remains were found buried in October 2000 in Maine.
"Her story got told. She had her day in court," Krowski said, calling the case a "landmark" for the brainwashing defense. "She was battered. She was mentally and psychologically abused. "
Prosecutor Walter Shea, who won a first-degree murder conviction last year against Robidoux's husband, Jacques Robidoux, said he was puzzled by the outcome.
"We were able to convict the father. I don't really see the difference between the father and the mother," Shea said.
Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. said he was "disappointed" and called the decision a "sympathy verdict."
"It's a hard one to swallow," he said. "Sometimes justice should be tempered with mercy but I find little mercy for a person who starves a baby to death. The kid's dead and she's walking around."
Jury foreman Robert J. Bartolome said the verdict boiled down not to mind control or to battered woman's syndrome but to one key factor: intent.
"Because a child died, it may be an unpopular verdict, but we felt Karen Robidoux's intent was not to kill her baby," Bartolome said.
The 51-year-old chemistry lab supervisor said the prosecution's attempt to link Robidoux's role in the infant's death with that of her husband essentially backfired.
"We were tied to the element of intent because the prosecution brought the case forward as a joint venture," he said. "That eliminated the charges of murder and manslaughter because she would have had to know (Jacques Robidoux's) intent and share his intent."
Another juror who requested anonymity called the deliberations "difficult" and "very personal."
"I will always feel bad because a baby died," the juror said. "But the law was very explicit and we had to follow the law."
Robidoux was pregnant and Samuel was already eating solid food when he was reverted to a breast milk-only diet based on a "vision from God" delivered by Jacques Robidoux's sister, Michelle Mingo. Robidoux, who was deemed "vain," was forced to drink a gallon of almond milk a day, live in a basement and follow a strict breast-feeding regimen or face losing her unborn child, according to the prophecy.
She eventually stopped producing enough milk and Samuel slowly withered away.
Robidoux, who has lost custody of her four children, will remain in a cult deprogramming center and continue intensive therapy.
"This is the end of a long chapter for us," said her sister, Rene Horton, an ex-cult member. "I hope she can recover and puts her life back together and moves on. This is behind her now."
The stunning verdict closed yet another chapter in the bizarre history of the controversial religious sect. Dubbed The Body, the isolationist group believes in paddling children as young as 1 and rejects the authority of the government and doctors.
Mingo still faces accessory charges while other group members who did nothing as Samuel wasted away and died - including iron-fisted leader Roland Robidoux - were not charged.