Religion was no defense in sect case, juror says

Every night Jeffrey Guertin arrived home after spending all day in court on the Jacques Robidoux case, a question popped into his head.

''I was trying to come up with an understanding of how parents could allow their child to waste away and die before their eyes,'' the alternate juror said yesterday, a day after Robidoux, a leader of an Attleboro religious sect called The Body, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his infant son.

Religious beliefs, Guertin said, weren't enough of a reason to allow Robidoux to starve his 11-month-old to death. Robidoux was found to have withheld solid food from Samuel after a relative told him to keep the baby on a breast-milk-only diet, saying it was a message from God. The child died April 26, 1999. Robidoux testified at trial that he thought the child would be resurrected.

''You can practice any religion you want to practice, but the welfare of your own children, to me, precedes any religious beliefs,'' said Guertin, who sat in on the trial but did not participate in the deliberation or decision-making process.

A jury of seven men and five women reached their conclusion Friday after deliberating for less than 61/2 hours over two days. Robidoux received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

''We all pretty much knew he was guilty. It was just a matter of degree - which one,'' juror Michael Thompson of Norton told the Brockton Enterprise.

During the trial, Robidoux admitted he knew Samuel's health was deteriorating when his wife, Karen, was pregnant and therefore not producing enough milk, but said he believed a miracle would save him.

''He began losing weight,'' Robidoux testified. ''His cry wasn't a normal baby's cry. ... Sometimes his eyes would roll to the back of his head.''

Karen Robidoux is charged with second-degree murder and is expected to stand trial Aug. 19. Another member of the sect told her to drink a gallon of almond milk a day, according to testimony in her husband's trial.

Guertin said the fact that the victim was an infant who didn't have a say in the matter increased the severity of the crime.

He said that although the case was emotional because of the circumstances, the jurors were not influenced by emotions. Ultimately, Guertin said, it was the law that mattered.

''We've got rules in society and they have to be followed,'' he said. ''Freedom of religion doesn't supersede rules we have, legally.''