Judge calls leader a 'false prophet'
ATTLEBORO - A juvenile court judge yesterday formally declared the infant son of Jacques Robidoux dead, and called Robidoux, who leads an obscure Christian cult, a ''false prophet'' who has led his followers into prison and their children into danger.
''I am convinced that he is dead,'' said Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth P. Nasif, his tone reflecting frustration at having tried for months to get Robidoux to reveal the whereabouts of his son.
''I feel very bad for you, sir. I truly do, and for the people you've led down your road,'' said Nasif, as Robidoux stood quietly before him. ''You are not a prophet. You are a false prophet. And your action, in my judgment, has caused the death of an innocent child who suffered before he died,'' the judge said.
Nasif then cited a verse from the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 23: ''`I am against those who prophesy false dreams.''' ''I want you to think about that,'' the judge told Robidoux. The judge's denunciation of Robidoux, who has told Nasif the fate of his son is between him and God, came as the Department of Social Services moved to gain permanent custody of 13 other children who have been associated with the cult.
Robidoux and his followers, drawn from three interrelated families, came under scrutiny last November when authorities began investigating reports that Robidoux's son, Samuel, died from malnutrition, and a second child, an infant, Jeremiah Courneau, had also died.
Robidoux and seven followers are imprisoned on criminal contempt charges for refusing to answer questions from a Bristol County special grand jury, which is investigating the children's disappearance. Police have searched Attleboro, Seekonk, and parts of Baxter State Park in Maine for the bodies of the two children, without result. The members have refused to be represented by lawyers.
Charges of civil contempt against Robidoux for refusing to cooperate in the custody case were dropped yesterday after the judge declared that Samuel Robidoux is dead.
In two private sessions yesterday, at the request of DSS, Nasif stripped Robidoux's wife, Karen, of her parental rights over her four children. The fathers of two of the children, both boys, were granted custody by Nasif yesterday, a court source said.
Both men declined comment. The other two children, both girls, may be adopted by an aunt from out of state. Nasif also ended the parental rights of Tim and Rebecca Corneau over their three daughters, according to the court source. Authorities are trying to determine what happened to Jeremiah Corneau, their son, who may have been stillborn. A paternal aunt has expressed interest in adopting the children, the source said.
''It was the court's belief that this was in the best interest of all the children,'' said Carol Yelverton, a DSS spokeswoman. Today, Nasif will decide whether to allow former cult member Dennis Mingo to retain custody of his five children. Their mother, Rebecca Robidoux Mingo, is one of the cult members imprisoned on criminal contempt. Nasif will also decide whether to end Tim and Rebecca Daneau's custody of their daughter.
Nasif's decision to end the civil contempt charges against Jacques Robidoux does not mean Robidoux and his followers will be freed from prison, according to Bristol Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea, who is leading the criminal investigation. Potential charges against the cult members range from improper disposal of a body to murder, he said.
Shea said cult members will be freed if they talk to grand jurors or if they cite a valid constitutional right, such as the right against self-incrimination. So far, all have refused to participate, rejecting court-appointed lawyers.
''There is no one, whatever their religious beliefs, who has the right to simply refuse to answer questions or assert some constitutional right'' when called before a grand jury, Shea said. ''In essence, they are ignoring the law completely.''
Shea said the grand jury is scheduled to expire in October, but the life of the panel could be extended by court order, which would also extend the imprisonment of Robidoux and his followers if they continue to balk. Shea said the DSS and his office are acting independently of each other and that the termination of parental rights sought by DSS was not designed to assist criminal investigators.
When authorities became involved last fall, there were 13 adults and 13 children who were members of the cult, Shea said.