BOSTON — Though he tearfully insisted that he was merely following God's will, a jury on Friday convicted Jacques Robidoux, 29, of first-degree murder in the starvation death of his infant son.
The verdict carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
Robidoux, a leader of a small fundamentalist sect known as the Body, had told jurors this week that he believed a miracle might save the boy, who was deprived of solid food for 51 days. Samuel Robidoux died April 26, 1999, three days before his first birthday.
Following a prophesy--or what the group called "a leading"--from God to his sister, Michelle Mingo, Robidoux ordered that his healthy young son be fed nothing but breast milk. His wife, Karen, already pregnant with another child, was told to consume only a potion made from water and crushed almonds.
The happy baby--who, one witness said, was about to start walking and would eat "anything that was put before him"--soon stopped crawling and slipped into a near-skeletal state of emaciation.
"He began losing weight," Robidoux testified in the Taunton, Mass., courtroom. "His cry wasn't a normal baby's cry. He would grind his teeth. Toward the end he would often bite down on [his mother's] nipple. Sometimes his eyes would roll to the back of his head."
Samuel's body was found buried in a remote section of Baxter State Park in northern Maine. Also uncovered was the body of a stillborn child of another sect member, Rebecca Corneau.
Mingo, who will be tried separately as an accessory after the fact, said she received her instructions from God as punishment for Karen Robidoux's vanity and pridefulness. Prosecutors said Mingo was jealous of Karen Robidoux, who earned a reputation for vanity because she closely watched her weight.
Karen Robidoux is scheduled to be tried this year on a charge of second-degree murder.
Based in Attleboro, Mass., the sect's three dozen members shun modern medicine, law, government, education and the arts. They live communally and support themselves through a contracting business.
The group puts such faith in God that when members ran out of gas on an outing to Maine, they all put their hands on the hoods of their cars, praying for their tanks to be refilled. They stayed in their cars for three days before police found them and escorted them to a gas station.
A former member, Daniel Horton, testified that a "leading" was accepted as a divine vision that could not be questioned. "We had to take it as if the Apostle Paul said it, and we would have to do it, whatever it was," he said.
Horton, who testified under a grant of immunity, said he challenged Jacques Robidoux about denying food to Samuel because he had heard of a woman in New York whose baby died under similar conditions.
"He told me that was from Satan," Horton said. "And in his exact words, 'and besides, I know that Samuel is not going to die.' "
But Robidoux himself told the court that his son grew weaker by the day.
"You made the decision, day after day, week after week [to deprive] your child of solid food?" asked prosecutor Walter Shea.
Robidoux, with his hair trimmed short and his long beard shaved off, answered: "The buck stops here."
His testimony was buttressed by writings in a diary introduced by prosecutors. Robidoux's brother-in-law said he found the diary wedged between two Bibles on a shelf in one of the group's communal homes. In court, Robidoux identified the journal as his. In one entry soon after he began withholding solid food from his 10-month-old son, Robidoux wrote, "Samuel is obviously thirsty and hungry." His wife was having trouble expressing enough milk to satisfy the infant.
"Karen cannot bear what is happening because Samuel is crying so much," the diary entry continued.
Shea, the prosecutor, read jurors an entry from one week later.
"Satan used the physical sight of Samuel to get to [Karen]," he wrote. "He was obviously losing much weight and becoming much weaker."
Deliberating for a day and a half, the jury rejected defense arguments that the baby died of scurvy or rickets.