Maine medical examiner rules sect baby died from starvation

In court proceedings, there are signs that Karen Robidoux may be moving to separate her case from that of her husband and sister-in- law.

Providence Journal/July 13, 2001

New Bedford -- The Superior Court case of three Attleboro sect members charged in the death of a baby boy saw several developments yesterday as lawyers continue to move toward trial.

A medical examiner, whose findings were made public yesterday, has officially ruled the death of Samuel Robidoux a homicide. The ruling, dated June 21, comes eight months after his parents, Jacques D. and Karen E. Robidoux, were charged with murder in the boy's death.

Dr. Margaret Greenwald, the chief medical examiner in Maine, where Samuel's body was found in October, ruled that he died of severe malnutrition due to starvation. Prosecutors have said that the Robidouxes stopped giving Samuel solid food in March 1999 after Jacques Robidoux's sister, G. Michelle Mingo, received what the sect believed was a message from God that the baby, then 10 months old, should only breast-feed. His mother, pregnant again, was not producing enough milk and the boy wasted away over the course of almost two months, dying in April 1999, a few days before his first birthday.

Mingo has been charged as an accessory to assault and battery of a child. Sect member David Corneau, who led investigators to Samuel's body in a remote part of Baxter State Park in central Maine, said the sect buried the bodies of Samuel and his cousin Jeremiah Corneau in September 1999.

Corneau told the police that his son, Jeremiah, was stillborn in August 1999. Greenwald reached no conclusion on the cause or manner of death of Jeremiah, whose remains were also examined. Her report said that the determination of how Samuel died was based on an examination of his skeleton because little else remained. That examination was performed by Marcella Sorg, a forensic anthropologist.

Sorg found that the baby's bones had grown less dense after losing minerals, as in osteoporosis, as a result of malnutrition. She said that the boy's stature and development of teeth indicated that he was probably fed properly for most of his life. A lack of healing of the damage to his bones shows that the starvation was immediately before his death and probably uninterrupted.

The medical examiner's report says that Samuel was dressed in a two-piece hooded sweatsuit, wrapped in a white sheet and placed inside a wicker basket of the type used as a baby's bed. The basket was wrapped in black plastic and placed inside a handmade pine coffin, with simple metal handles on each end, the report says.

Samuel was identified based on the description of where his body was found and on DNA tests, which showed the baby was the offspring of Jacques and Karen Robidoux. Meanwhile yesterday, brief court proceedings gave signs that Karen Robidoux may be moving to separate her case from that of her husband and sister-in-law.

The case for Jacques Robidoux and Mingo was continued to Aug. 29, while Karen Robidoux's case was continued to Aug. 22. Her lawyer, C. Samuel Sutter, said he will present a motion to the court at that time. He declined to say whether it will be a motion to sever her case from the other two. Also yesterday, the planned collection of handwriting samples from the three defendants was postponed.

According to prosecutor Walter Shea, the handwriting expert wanted the trio to write passages in addition to one approved by the court. The Robidouxs and Mingo wanted to consult with their lawyers before agreeing to do so, Shea said.

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