The leader of a "dangerous and destructive" Attleboro cult persuaded his followers to ignore his starving son while the toddler's mother was so sickened by the boy's emaciated body that she stopped bathing him, prosecutors say.
Jacques Robidoux, the cloistered sect's 27-year-old leader, spent virtually every waking moment with his starving son, Samuel, and "calmly advised others in the group to ignore his pain - to ignore he was dying," Bristol County Assistant District Attorney David Frank said.
And the boy's mother, 24-year-old Karen Robidoux, was so horrified by her son's protruding ribs and bulging eyes that she stopped washing him and had to isolate herself in a room where she couldn't hear his desperate screams, Frank said.
"They did it slowly and they did it deliberately," the prosecutor said. "He was starved and killed in a house that was filled with food. Those who saw it were absolutely terrified."
The Robidouxs, along with the boy's aunt, 35-year-old Michelle Mingo, for the first time accepted lawyers' assistance and pleaded innocent yesterday to charges connected to the child's April 1999 starvation death. Jacques and Karen Robidoux, were held on $500,000 and $100,000 cash bail respectively after being arraigned on murder charges in Fall River Superior Court. Mingo, who prosecutors say concocted the twisted religious prophecy that led to Samuel's starvation, was held on $50,000 bail on accessory charges.
The boy, described as "healthy and robust," was denied food for two months and wasted away in the group's Attleboro home, dying three days before his first birthday. Samuel screamed and cried incessantly for days before he lost his voice and became "a vegetable," Frank said.
Prosecutors say Mingo told the group she received a vision from God that Samuel was only to be fed breast-milk, possibly because she was jealous over Karen Robidoux's looks.
But former cult member Dennis Mingo said he believes his estranged wife, Michelle, made the deadly prophecy after the women in the group decided Karen's ego was surging because she was thinner than the rest. "I think they thought Karen had a vanity problem and vanity is a sin," Mingo said.
After Jacques announced the boy was dead, his body was put in a shed at the group's former Seekonk compound where it lay for four months. Last fall, the group traveled to Maine's Baxter State Park and buried Samuel deep in the woods alongside his stillborn infant cousin, Jeremiah Corneau.
Both bodies were missing for nearly a year before Jeremiah's father, David Corneau, led investigators to the makeshift grave site two weeks ago. Corneau and his wife, Rebecca, have been granted immunity in the case. Michelle Mingo's attorney, Alan Zwirblis, citing Old Testament scripture, rebutted the charges and compared the group to Jesus, saying their defiant silence is modeled after well-known biblical teachings.
"There's been mention that this group wouldn't speak anything before (the court)," Zwirblis said. "Well, neither did Jesus before (Pontius) Pilate, even when he felt the urge that if he did speak, he'd accomplish his release."
Court-appointed attorneys Frank O'Boy and Robert Jubinville, who represent Jacques and Karen Robidoux respectively, also proclaimed their clients' innocence.
The sect, which grew out of a disgruntled Christian prayer group, bases its beliefs on the Old Testament and denounces mainstream society. Dennis Mingo, who left the group before Samuel's demise, said the pressure inside the cult was torturous and led him to flee and seek help from a deprogrammer. "There were times when I was in the group that I felt like I had a gun to my head," he said.