YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Murder Trial Spotlights Reclusive Religious Sect

Courts: A Massachusetts couple are accused of allowing their infant son to starve to death.


TAUNTON, Mass. — A prophecy directly from God decreed that Karen Robidoux was vain and prideful. For her sins, two witnesses testified Monday, Robidoux was ordered to stop feeding solid food to her baby son, Samuel.

Daniel and Renee Gordon--former members of a small religious group known as the Body--told the court that as Samuel's mother struggled to produce breast milk, the active, vibrant baby stopped crawling and became so emaciated that the bones in his skull seemed to jut out. Within weeks in the spring of 1999, he was dead.

The father, Jacques Robidoux, a leader of the group that makes its home in nearby Attleboro, is charged with first-degree murder. He sat expressionless as the Gordons--husband and wife--described confrontations with Robidoux over his son's rapidly declining health.

"I told Jacques I didn't think this [message] was from God," said Renee Gordon, 32. "And Jacques said this is from God. This is what we have to do. And we have to have faith."

Police located Samuel's body at a remote site in Baxter State Park in northern Maine.

Karen Robidoux, 26, will stand trial on second-degree murder charges this year. Michelle Mingo--who ordered the fatal change in Samuel's diet after she claimed to have received instructions from God--is charged as an accessory after the fact.

With testimony that has included passages from a diary kept by 29-year-old Jacques Robidoux, the trial has opened a window on a reclusive religious group whose three dozen members believe they are God's chosen people.

Much of their strict philosophy comes from a book called "Born in Zion." The members live communally and eschew institutions such as government, law, education and medicine. For a time, members were banned from wearing eyeglasses because sect leaders said God would repair their vision.

They operate a contracting business but avoid banks and conduct most of their transactions in cash. They conduct weeklong religious feasts marked by singing and expressive dancing but refuse to acknowledge birthdays or other conventional celebrations.

But, prosecutor Walter J. Shea insisted, the group was not singled out for its beliefs.

"This is a murder case," he said. "This is not a case about religion. This is not a case about someone's choice of lifestyle. This is a case about the very short life and the very slow, excruciating death of a baby."

Samuel, Shea said, "was murdered by the very people that brought him into this world ... by his mom and dad."

The child died just before his first birthday.

Jacques Robidoux, who has professed an aversion to the legal system, announced last week that he wanted to represent himself. Judge Elizabeth Donovan turned down the request.

In his journal, Robidoux wrote that Satan used the starving baby to make his wife question her faith in God. He wrote of praying that her breast milk would increase--but to no avail.

Los Angeles Times Articles