Appeals court: Cult parents won't get daughter, 2, back

Boston Herald/November 22, 2002
By Dave Wedge

An Attleboro cult couple whose stillborn son was secretly buried in Maine alongside a murdered boy remain active members of the "dangerous'' sect and will not be given back their daughter, the state appeals court ruled yesterday.

Citing David and Rebecca Corneau's alleged involvement in the 1999 starvation death of their nephew, Samuel Robidoux, and the stillbirth of their own son, Jeremiah, the appeals court upheld a lower court's decision to take away the couple's youngest child. Rebecca Corneau gave birth to the now-2-year-old girl, given the pseudonym "Darla'' in court papers, while locked in a prison hospital under court order.

A judge dubbed the couple unfit parents because the Corneaus were members of The Body, an Attleboro-based religious sect that rejects modern medicine and has a history of suspicious child deaths. In all, 14 children have been taken from the cult, including four from the Corneaus.

"The parents' failure to visit Darla at any point in her young life, their involvement in the death of one child for whom they shared a parenting function, the circumstances surrounding the death of another biological child at birth, their failure to address the medical needs of the older children, and their inability to accept or understand the consequences of their actions all proved, by clear and convincing evidence, parental unfitness,'' the court ruled.

Attorney David A.F. Lewis, who represents Darla, praised the ruling and said all of the Corneau children are "doing well'' with their adoptive families.

"I'm happy for the kids. They get some closure in their lives and they can move on,'' Lewis said.

According to cult expert Robert Pardon, who has studied the Attleboro group extensively and has worked with the court on the case, the sect has two new members and is rebuilding.

"This is not a group that is falling apart by any means. The group has completely reconstituted itself,'' Pardon said.

Pardon, who has worked with several ex-members of the high-control group, says sectists continue to blindly follow leader Roland Robidoux and have not abandoned their anti-establishment stance.

"David (Corneau) definitely loves his girls, but David also would follow whatever the group said,'' Pardon said. "I think it would be very troublesome if the kids were returned to the parents if they continue to be part of this group that has a history of children dying.''

Under an immunity deal, David Corneau led investigators to a hilltop grave in Maine 's Baxter State Park in 2000, where the bodies of Samuel and Jeremiah were unearthed.

Investigators found Jeremiah died during a home birth because his lungs weren't properly cleared. The Corneaus were not charged in connection with either child's death.

Samuel's father, Jacques Robidoux, is serving life in prison without chance of parole for starving Samuel to death to fulfill a twisted religious prophecy.

The boy's mother, Karen Robidoux, is slated to go to trial on second-degree murder charges in January. She is using a battered woman's defense, claiming pressure from the male-dominated cult forced her to deny her son food.

Samuel's aunt, Michelle Mingo, faces trial on accessory charges for allegedly concocting the "vision from God" that prompted the couple to stop feeding the boy.

There was speculation earlier this year that Rebecca Corneau gave birth again, but she says she had a miscarriage. A grand jury investigated the pregnancy and found no evidence that another child was born.

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