Attleboro -- The bizarre saga of child murder and the Attleboro religious sect came to an end earlier this year when sect mother Karen Robidoux was found innocent of starving her son to death.
Robidoux, 29, walked free after a jury acquitted her of second-degree murder in the starvation death of her son, Samuel. She was found guilty of only assault and battery and was sentenced to time she already had served in jail. Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. denounced the verdict. But jury members who spoke publicly said the prosecution failed to prove she intended to kill her child.
Robidoux did not testify during her trial. But her lawyer, Joseph Krowski of Brockton, claimed she was brainwashed by the "cult,'' known as The Body, and was powerless to help her son.
Samuel Robidoux died after starving for 51 days, just shy of his first birthday in April 1999, to fulfill what sect members believed were orders from God to withhold food from the toddler.
"That's the thing I have to live with,'' a teary-eyed Robidoux told a television interviewer after her trial.
Her husband, Jacques, now 32, was convicted of first-degree murder at a separate trial in June 2002. He is serving a life sentence without parole. His lawyer is working on an appeal.
Karen Robidoux, who was placed on a strict dietary regimen by the sect, revealed that her husband once prevented her from helping her son roll over after he had been without food for three weeks.
"He couldn't stand up in his crib, and I tried to help him, and Jacques wouldn't let me help him. Told me he needed to make his muscles stronger to do it himself,'' she said.
During that time, Robidoux, who was pregnant, said she was filled with anxiety and confusion. She said she lacked enough sleep and food and had to keep a regimen of round-the-clock nursing for Samuel.
"I didn't have him at all without being supervised,'' Robidoux said, adding that Jacques kept a watchful eye.
Shortly after Karen Robidoux's trial ended, her sister-in-law, Michelle Mingo, pleaded guilty to being an accessory to assault and battery on a child and was freed after spending almost four years behind bars awaiting trial.
Mingo, Jacques Robidoux's 39-year-old sister, came up with the prophecy because she thought Karen Robidoux was vain and vanity was a sin in the sect, according to testimony at Karen Robidoux's trial.
The Body, according to former members, started out as a Bible study group among mostly family members led by Jacques Robidoux's father, Roland.
Former members said they were captivated by Roland Robidoux, whom they said was very charismatic, and even beat their own children to please him.
Because the insular sect rejected mainstream society and even family members outside the group, Karen Robidoux said she felt powerless and could not leave to get help even from the police.
"I know people can't understand it. But when you're trapped in a world like that, you have no way out,'' Robidoux said.
The prosecution disputed contentions from former sect members who testified that they were controlled by the group. Witnesses acknowledged they eventually left the sect and were ostracized by its members but were never physically threatened.
Prosecutors argued that the sect couple had a legal duty to feed and clothe their child and that their religious beliefs were no excuse.
"I've been in this business for more than 20 years and I can't think of a more horrible crime,'' Walsh said.