TROUT BROOK TOWNSHIP, Maine - Using a compass and landmarks, a member of an Attleboro cult led investigators directly to the burial spot of his infant son and nephew in a remote section of massive Baxter State Park yesterday, paving the way for authorities to build a criminal case against other sect members.
David Corneau was clearly distraught as he pointed out the "cathedral-like" spot on the crest of a hill overlooking Mount Katahdin where his infant son, Jeremiah, and his 10-month-old nephew, Samuel Robidoux, were allegedly buried last fall by Corneau and three other cultists.
Corneau, 33, agreed to lead Bristol County investigators to the grave after he and his wife, Rebecca, 32, reached an immunity deal that will spare them prosecution in the babies' deaths.
"We would never have found this without the cooperation of David Corneau," said Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh, who called the discovery yesterday a "major breakthrough in the case. It was a bargain well struck." Prosecutors will now begin presenting evidence to a grand jury that could result in charges against Samuel Robidoux's parents, Jacques, 27, and Karen, 25; his grandfather, Roland Robidoux, 60; and his aunt, Michelle Robidoux Mingo, 36, sources said.
Three other cultists, Roger Daneau, 65, and his two sons, Mark, 22, and Timothy, 24, could also be prosecuted if they are implicated in grand jury testimony, sources said.
As part of the deal brokered by Corneau's attorney, Robert A. George, Corneau and his wife will be immune from prosecution provided David Corneau testifies before the grand jury about the death of Samuel Robidoux, who prosecutors allege starved to death after the group stopped feeding him solid food.
No charges will result, under the deal, in connection with the death of Jeremiah Corneau, who prosecutors allege died shortly after home childbirth. Investigators believe the baby died from an obstructed airway and would have survived if he had been born with proper medical supervision.
The Christian fundamentalist sect rejects government, doctors and professional medical care as part of its beliefs, and relies on the Old Testament for spiritual guidance.
The immunity deal also calls for no women or children from the group to be called before the grand jury, and Walsh has agreed to seek the release of the Daneaus, who are being held in contempt of court along with Michelle Mingo and Jacques, Roland and Georgette Robidoux, 63, Samuel's grandmother. Walsh will not appeal for the Daneaus' release until David Corneau testifies and his immunity deal is also contingent upon what he tells the grand jury. "He has no immunity yet," said prosecutor Walter Shea. "If he lives up to all the conditions, he gets immunity. It all depends on what he testifies to. "
But George said he has a signed agreement and is confident Corneau will continue to cooperate.
"He intends to testify truthfully before the grand jury," said George. "He'll take an affirmation (of truth) but not a religious oath. He won't swear on the Bible."
The breakthrough in the case came last month when Corneau, who had been jailed for three months on contempt charges, was released after hiring George and invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Corneau, Jacques Robidoux and two other male cult members allegedly buried the babies in the 200,000-acre state park following their deaths last fall.
The burial spot was located on the northwest end of Grand Lake Matagamon about 1.3 miles off the Freezeout Trail near Webster Stream. The Freezeout Trail extends from the Trout Brook Farm campground, where the cult is believed to have camped during its trip to the park last fall.
One investigator described the burial site as "cathedral-like," with its mountain view and the sound of the Grand Pitch waterfall in the background. The bodies were found buried in two small pine boxes about 3 feet deep and located about 400 feet from where authorities had conducted two previous searches.
When Corneau reached the site after being flown to the area by seaplane, he turned to George and said, "this is it," the attorney said.
While authorities unearthed the boxes, George said Corneau "was very emotional. He knew exactly where the boxes were buried. He knew what he had to do here and he accomplished it. He never expected to be back here."
The boxes were removed late yesterday afternoon and flown to the Maine medical examiner's office in Augusta where a Massachusetts medical examiner is expected to do forensic testing. As part of the immunity deal, George said authorities agreed not to disturb Jeremiah Corneau's remains.
Walsh said other cult members have shown indications of dissatisfaction with the sect.
Mark Daneau formerly petitioned the grand jury this week to appear in court and talk to a judge, but reneged yesterday. Prosecutors speculated Daneau may also want to plead the Fifth Amendment to secure his release from jail and eventually testify.
"It's a huge change of mindset, just as it was for Corneau," said Shea. "It's totally contradictory to their beliefs."
Despite the progress in the case, Walsh said he remains troubled about the cult.
"This is a bizarre cult, there's no operating principles," he said. "They make stuff up as they go along. Some of their beliefs are downright dangerous, as evidenced by the two dead children. There's not a religion in the world that lets you kill your kids."