Sect member fed son secretly, lawyer said

Boston Globe/December 13, 2000
By Mac Daniel

New Bedford - An Attleboro sect member charged with murder in the alleged starvation death of her son secretly fed the boy small pieces of food despite an edict from the sect that the child drink only water and breast milk, her lawyer said yesterday.

As a result, Karen Robidoux should not face second-degree murder charges in the death of her 11-month-old son, Samuel, lawyer Robert L. Jubinville said in Bristol Superior Court.

Jubinville said his client quietly resisted the edict laid down by her husband, sect leader Jacques Robidoux, and Jacques' sister, Michelle Mingo, both of whom have been charged in the case. Jubinville added that the rules of the fundamentalist sect forbid her from protesting against her husband. ''She could disagree,'' Jubinville said, ''but she couldn't argue with him. She did what was required of her.''

Lawyers for all three defendants said their clients did not intend to kill Samuel. ''There was no intent on behalf of Jacques Robidoux, his wife, and his sister ... to kill Samuel Robidoux,'' said lawyer Francis M. O'Boy, who represents Jacques Robidoux. ''What they did approaches recklessness ... not murder.''

Mingo's attorney, Alan Zwirblis, told the court that Karen Robidoux may have been suffering from anorexia nervosa and could not produce enough breast milk to keep Samuel alive.

Despite the defense arguments, Judge David McLaughlin yesterday denied, without elaboration, bail reductions for the Robidouxs and Mingo. All three defense lawyers told McLaughlin that their clients were not flight risks and that the charges against them were overblown.

The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 19. Jacques Robidoux, 27, is charged with first-degree murder, and Mingo, 35, with being an accessory before the fact of assault and battery on a child. O'Boy, Jubinville, and Zwirblis asked that their clients be placed under house arrest and monitored electronically. O'Boy also filed two affidavits, one from sect member David Corneau and the other by Robidoux's sister, Nicole Kidson, who left the sect in November 1999.

In both, Corneau and Kidson said they had no fear about Jacques Robidoux's release. Jacques and Karen Robidoux and Mingo pleaded not guilty last month after a grand jury indicted them on the charges involving the April 1999 death of the Robidouxs' son. All were ordered held on high bail.

The Attleboro group adheres to a strict interpretation of the Bible and reportedly eschews modern law and medicine. They became the focus of a Bristol County investigation after a former sect member reported late last year that two of the sect's children were missing and presumed dead.

After spending several months in jail for not cooperating with authorities, Corneau and his wife, Rebecca, were granted immunity from prosecution. In return, David Corneau led authorities to the bodies of his son, Jeremiah, and Samuel Robidoux. Jeremiah is believed to have died at birth after suffocating.

Prosecutors have charged Jacques Robidoux with directing the systematic withholding of nourishment from his son, who, prosecutors said, died after being fed only breast milk and water for more than two months ''in a house filled with food.'' The child had already begun eating solid foods when his diet was restricted, prosecutors said.

Authorities also allege Mingo told sect members that God told her Samuel should be limited to the breast-milk diet. Prosecutors have said Mingo may have been motivated to ''test'' Karen because of jealousy. O'Boy said yesterday that after reading 1,600 pages of grand jury testimony, and after leaks to the news media during those proceedings, ''the facts in this case support going to the jury on nothing less than involuntary manslaughter.''

After the hearing, O'Boy said he may ask the court for a change of venue. With all the publicity the case has generated, he said, ''I doubt that my client can get a fair trial in Eastern Massachusetts.''

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