With the imprisonment of two more members of an Attleboro religious sect on Wednesday for refusing to testify about the deaths and whereabouts of two children, serious questions about the case are emerging. Eight members are now behind bars for their silence before a special grand jury, and 13 children have been taken away by the state, leaving just five adult members free.
But will the imprisonment of the entire group aid in finding Samuel Robidoux, who is believed to have died of malnutrition at 18 months old, and Jeremiah Corneau, who is believed to have been stillborn? And will Roland Robidoux, the alleged leader of the group, lose control of his flock once all are imprisoned, allowing investigators to crack the group?
The cooperation of the sect's adults would greatly strengthen the state's case, Assistant Bristol County District Attorney Gerald FitzGerald said yesterday.
But, even in the worst case scenario - which would entail all adult members of the group ending up in prison or pleading the Fifth - prosecutors say they are confident the case will continue to move forward. "Cooperation or the lack thereof will not determine the outcome," FitzGerald said.
Thus far, several missions to locate the children's remains in Baxter State Park in Maine, Seekonk and Attleboro, have come up empty. And members like Jacques Robidoux, 27, Samuel's father, appear dedicated to remaining silent. Robidoux has been imprisoned since November for refusing to speak about the matter in Bristol County Juvenile Court.
One source close to the case said yesterday that "at least one indictment and possibly more" would certainly result from the recent grand jury proceedings, in part because of strong evidence from child members of the group, as well as writings obtained during searches. But Steve Hassan [Warning: Steve Hassan is not recommended by this Web site. Read the detailed disclaimer to understand why.], a mental health counselor and cult specialist who has interviewed four former members of the Attleboro group, says their cohesiveness and the power of their leader are still intact, throwing into doubt how effective the divide-and-conquer strategy has worked thus far. "They are incredibly reslient, especially because they have contact with him [Roland Robidoux]," Hassan said yesterday. "He wants to see specific people in the group and wants to give them instructions. He's totally in control still."
Hassan said the former members have also said that Robidoux has gained strength from his imprisonment, viewing himself as a martyr for his beliefs. "He believes the world view of him is that he is being crucified, that he's being persecuted," Hassan said.
"He thinks it proves he's doing God's will."
Frank K. Flinn, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis and a specialist in cult activities, said he is not certain that jailing each of the group's adult members will accomplish much. "Eight seems like overkill to me in this case," said Flinn, who has followed the situation since last fall. "Eight does not solve the problem. In a situation like this, many of the members are thinking exactly alike, so it seems pointless."