Jury Deliberate Sect Baby Death

TAUNTON, Mass. -- Jurors have begun deliberating the murder case of a religious sect leader who admitted he watched his 1-year-old son starve to death because he believed a miracle would save the boy.

The jury must decide if Jacques Robidoux, 29, is guilty of first-degree murder, a lesser charge or should be acquitted in the 1999 death of his son, Samuel.

The jury deliberated for four hours Thursday without reaching a decision. They were to resume Friday.

Robidoux, 29, a leader of a small sect known as "The Body," testified that he watched the infant waste away over 51 days after Robidoux's sister received a prophesy that they should withhold solid food from the child.

His attorney, Francis O'Boy, maintained something other than starvation could have been the cause of the baby's death.

In closing arguments, O'Boy urged jurors to recognize that Robidoux acknowledged his mistakes and find him innocent. He noted that the sect did not believe in modern medicine, and he suggested it might have been ignorance on the part of Robidoux that led to the boy's death.

"He's no John Gotti," O'Boy told jurors. "He's somebody who's willing to come before you and say, I did something wrong. Was that something wrong the cause of death? You've got to decide."

Prosecutors say Robidoux saw his son dying over the period in which he allowed the infant to feed only on his mother's breast milk, which had started to run dry because his mother had become pregnant again.

"You certainly can't hide behind your religion and say 'I had to let my son starve to death,'" prosecutor Walter Shea said.

The defense put on its only witness, other than Robidoux, earlier Thursday.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Jeffrey Hubbard testified he could not establish a cause of death, though he acknowledged he had written a report that listed starvation as a possibility. He said the boy also could have suffered from scurvy.

Medical experts who testified for the prosecution during the seven-day trial said the brittle, porous condition of Samuel's bones suggested malnutrition as the cause of death.

Jacques Robidoux testified Wednesday that his wife, Karen, wanted to feed the boy solid food, but he wouldn't allow it because he believed it would have violated a prophecy from God that had been related by his sister, Michelle Mingo.

"She had been reading the Bible and she had come across three different scriptures -- one of them was Karen had pride and foolishness, that she was vain because of the way she looked ... and that God wasn't happy with that," he testified.

Karen Robidoux faces a later trial on a charge of second-degree murder. Mingo faces trial on a charge of assault and battery on a child.