Sect member charged in starvation son to death to employ battered woman's defense

Boston Globe/August 21, 2002
By Paul Edward Parker

Dedham, Mass. -- A member of an Attleboro religious sect charged with starving her one-year-old son to death has been granted more time to prepare a battered woman's syndrome defense. Superior Court Judge Elizabeth B. Donovan on Wednesday allowed defense lawyer Joseph F. Krowski's motion for a continuance, setting a new trial date for Karen E. Robidoux for Jan. 6. She is charged with second-degree murder in the starvation death of her son, Samuel.

Jury selection had been scheduled to begin on Sept. 3.

Krowski, in a motion seeking more time to prepare, said that Robidoux's ''decision-making process'' had been affected by ''undue influence'' by members of her family.

Krowski said he needed time to line up experts and fully prepare Robidoux's defense. He also cited Robidoux's willingness to enter counseling as a reason why more time should be granted.

In June, her husband, Jacques Robidoux, was convicted of first-degree murder after he admitted he watched Samuel starve over 51 days without solid food and die on April 26, 1999, three days shy of his first birthday. Jacques Robidoux received the mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The couple are members a small religious sect known as ''The Body,'' a group that rejects modern medicine, government and science.

Krowski is claiming the other members of the sect controlled Karen Robidoux's mind and left her powerless as she allegedly took part in the starvation of her son.

She was never physically assaulted, but instead endured psychological abuse because of the fear of God the sect elders instilled in her, Krowski wrote.

Lawyer Paul Martinek, editor of Boston-based Lawyer's Weekly USA, said battered woman's syndrome is typically used in the context of explaining why a woman assaulted or murdered her spouse or partner after years of abuse. To his knowledge, its use has never resulted in an acquittal in a murder case.

''It's a way of explaining another defense, which is why this case is unusual,'' he said. ''Instead of using it to explain why she did something, it's being used to explain why she didn't do something.''

In a related case, Alan Zwerblis, the lawyer for Michelle Mingo, requested that a pre-trail hearing in her case be moved up from Oct. 28 to an earlier date.

Mingo is charged as being an accessory to assault and battery on a child. She said she received a prophecy from God to take the boy off solid food and feed him only his mother's breast milk.

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