TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) – A former member of a religious sect was cleared of murder charges Tuesday but convicted of assault and battery for starving her infant son to death to fulfill a prophecy.

A judge sentenced Karen Robidoux to 2 years in prison. But she was in state custody for nearly three years – much of that time in a psychiatric hospital – and will not have to serve any additional time, the judge said.

“It hasn’t fully hit me yet,” Robidoux said outside the courtroom. “I’m just glad that the nightmare door is shut.”

Robidoux, 28, and her husband Jacques were members of a tiny sect called “The Body,” which rejects modern medicine. After another member of the group told them about a message she received from God, they began withholding solid food from their son.

Her defense lawyer had argued that Robidoux was brainwashed and tortured by her husband and other members of the group, which rejects modern medicine.

But prosecutor Walter Shea said in his closing argument that the real victim was Robidoux’s baby, Samuel, who died in 1999 just days shy of his first birthday.

“What’s confusing about the verdict is how they could find that she did in fact take part in the assault, but not to the extent that includes the death of the child,” Shea said after the verdict was announced.

After nearly two weeks of trial in Taunton Superior Court, the jury deliberated for parts of two days before reaching its verdict.

Prosecutors had sought a second-degree murder charge for Robidoux, but jurors also had the option of finding her guilty of manslaughter or assault and battery.

Robidoux’s lawyer, Joseph Krowski called just two witnesses to the stand – both forensic psychologists who examined her at a state hospital in Taunton. Robidoux herself never testified.

One psychologist said Robidoux told him she began withholding solid food from her 10-month-old son after her sister-in-law told her about a message she received from God: Karen was “too vain” and God planned to punish her by killing one of the twins she believed she was pregnant with at the time.

Robidoux said she was told she could save the unborn twin if she put herself on a high-fat diet and fed Samuel only her own breast milk.

But because Robidoux was pregnant, she was producing only trace amounts of breast milk. She continued to try to breast feed Samuel every hour, as called for by the prophecy.

Prosecutors say the boy starved for 51 days, dying just three days before his first birthday. His body was discovered in a shallow grave in Maine’s Baxter State Park.

Robidoux later gave birth to a baby boy; she had not been pregnant with twins.

Shea said Robidoux noticed her son’s deterioration quickly and did nothing to stop it. She told psychologists that he had been an active baby, but after being deprived of food, he became listless and was no longer able to roll over.

“Karen Robidoux made a choice,” She said in his closing argument. “She chose her husband and her faith over the life of her child.”

He said Robidoux could have left the group to save her child, and called to the witness stand several former members of the sect who said they left the group because of its domineering leaders and radical tenets.

But Krowski said Karen Robidoux had endured physical and psychological abuse for years. An unwed mother at 15, she grew up in a strict religious family and was married off to Jacques Robidoux, who along with his father was the leader of the Attleboro-based sect. The group isolated itself from society and modern culture, shunning doctors, banks, televisions, radios and newspapers.

She was frequently berated by other members of the sect, including her husband, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Karen Robidoux “suffered a psychological battery of unparalleled proportions,” Krowski told the jury in his closing argument. “This isn’t about religion. It’s about what some evil, clever people can do.”

AP-ES-02-03-04 1554EST



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