Mom of tot starved to death will blame cult brainwashing

An Attleboro cult mom awaiting trial for killing her son will use a battered woman's syndrome defense, saying the sect's brainwashing ways led her to starve the toddler to death.

``This woman was totally pressured,'' attorney Joseph Krowski Sr. said of his client, Karen Robidoux. ``She had not only the fear of what would happen to her in life, but also the fear of what would happen to her in the afterlife as well.''

Krowski said the leaders of the fundamentalist sect, including Robidoux's husband, Jacques, used ``psychological force to overpower her.'' The sect pressured her into following a twisted prophecy that ordered her to deny her son, Samuel, solid food, Krowski said. Samuel slowly starved to death over 51 days and died April 26, 1999.

In court papers, Krowski claims that Robidoux's ``decision-making process'' was hampered by ``undue influence'' from the cult. He acknowledges she was never physically beaten but alleges that the sect leaders controlled her mind and instilled the ``fear of God.''

``She's a victim as well,'' Krowski said.

After a hearing yesterday in Dedham Superior Court, Robidoux's trial for second-degree murder was pushed back from September 3 to January 6 to allow Krowski time to build the controversial defense.

Prosecutor Walter Shea called the move a ``last-ditch attempt'' by Robidoux ``to save herself.'' He says Robidoux is still an active member of the sect.

``It's ludicrous. This has nothing to do with battered woman's syndrome,'' Shea said. ``She still communicates with the family. It's a little hard to believe that now she comes to realize she was under their control.''

Jacques Robidoux, leader of the Attleboro-based cult known as The Body, was convicted in June of first-degree murder for Samuel's death. Jacques Robidoux's sister, Michelle Mingo, is awaiting trial on accessory charges for allegedly handing down the ``vision from God'' that prompted the couple to stop feeding Samuel.

The battered woman's defense has been used in Massachusetts but domestic violence victim advocates admit it is a slippery slope.

``We caution against summarily dismissing a battered woman's syndrome defense simply because all of the symptoms may not be there,'' said Toni Troop, spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a victim advocacy group. ``But we also caution against false claims of battered woman's syndrome because that will ultimately make it difficult for true claims to be considered.''