Taunton -- The third day of the Karen Robidoux infanticide trial began with a witness refusing to testify because of religious beliefs and included the judge calling for an immediate recess after an emotional afternoon breakdown by Robidoux.
While watching videotape of her son, Samuel, Robidoux, 29, began sobbing uncontrollably, forcing Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Donovan to halt proceedings during the afternoon session.
Robidoux is facing second-degree murder charges in the death of Samuel, who died of starvation three days before his first birthday on April 26, 1999. He hadn't eaten in 51 days when he died, except for his mother's breast milk. Karen's husband, Jacques, who along with his wife were members of the religious Attleboro-based sect known as "The Body," was convicted of first-degree murder in his son's death in June 2002 and sentence to life in prison.
A prosecution witness, active sect member David Corneau, refused to testify in court yesterday morning, with his lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., saying during a hearing, "He lives following the ways of Jesus Christ and the Bible and would be violating his religious beliefs in testifying."
Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea asked Donovan to find Corneau in contempt of court. Donovan said she wanted to review the immunity agreement Corneau signed before he testified in the Jacques Robidoux trial. Shea claimed the agreement requires Corneau to also testify at Karen Robidoux's trial.
It was Corneau who led police to the bodies of Samuel and his own son, who was stillborn, in Baxter State Park, in Maine, that led to the arrests of three sect members, including the Robidouxs. Police placed Corneau in jail before he revealed where the bodies were buried.
Corneau was arrested Wednesday after Donovan issued a bench warrant for Corneau failing to appear in court earlier that day as required. He re-entered the courtroom after his hearing and listened to testimony of ex-sect member Dennis Mingo, before a bailiff asked him to leave. Carney Jr., said Corneau was would return to jail before taking the stand. Shea said he wasn't even sure he would still use Corneau as a witness.
In early March of 1999, Samuel Robidoux was taken off solid food, which he had been eating for several months, when Jacques Robidoux's sister, Michelle Mingo, told sect members that she had "a vision" that Samuel should only be fed her mother's breast milk. However, another of Jacques' sisters, Nicole Kidson, who left the sect in 1999, said in testimony yesterday that Mingo was lying because of her jealousy of Karen Robidoux.
"Michelle was overweight and it's hard to say because she was my sister, but yes, she is unattractive, I guess," said Kidson, who was pushed out of the sect for wearing eyeglasses. "Michelle said Karen was vain, she took care of herself too much. Those were her own thoughts in her head, I look back now, I know God didn't tell her not to feed Samuel. It was jealously from Michelle."
Michelle Mingo was charged with being an accessory before the fact to assault and battery on a child. Her ex-husband, Dennis, who testified Thursday and yesterday in the trial, has sole custody of their five children.
Earlier in Kidson's almost three hours of testimony, she told Shea that her father, the leader of the sect, Roland Robidoux, thought Samuel's death "was to teach Karen Robidoux humility."
Shea called several ex-sect members yesterday, including Nicole's husband, Rick, who testified that Jacques and Karen Robidoux, "had a very loving, caring relationship," and David Horton, who was on the stand when Karen broke down.
For the most part, testimony yesterday centered on background of the sect, how it started, Roland and Jacques Robidoux's dominating presence and how much free will the members had to leave. The latter is a major part of Shea's argument, that Karen could've left with Samuel at any time and saved his life.
However, Nicole Kidson refuted that claim, saying the power Roland and Jacques had upon the group, as the two-elders, was strong.
"I'd say the chances of Karen being able to leave Jacques and the sect were next to none," Kidson said under cross-examination of Robidoux's lawyer Joseph Krowski. "Especially with the kids, where would she go, I don't see how she could've left. If not for my husband, I'd be there today, my four kids would've been taken from me. If I had a husband like Jacques, I'd still be in the sect."
Kidson also spoke extensively of a trip the sect made, with at least 16 children to Maine in 1998, with no food, money or gas. Jacques convinced the sect that God would appear at the conclusion of their trip. At the time, Karen was breast feeding two children, including Samuel.
"Karen was so weak. She could barely walk," said Kidson.