Sect member ordered into custody

The Associated Press / August 31, 2000
By Chris Lehourites

Attleboro, Mass. (AP) - A pregnant member of a fundamentalist sect who is suspected of covering up the death of her last child was ordered taken into custody by a judge Thursday after she refused to submit to a court-ordered medical exam.

Rebecca Corneau will be examined to determine her health and that of her unborn baby and establish how far she is into the pregnancy, prosecutor Gerald FitzGerald said.

Prosecutors believe Corneau, 32, is 8 1/2 months pregnant.

"I think Baby Corneau is safer today than Baby Corneau has ever been," District Attorney Paul Walsh said.

Corneau was escorted from the courthouse by state troopers and was to be taken to a low-security facility in Boston for pregnant women in state custody. The district attorney said he doesn't expect her to be released until after she gives birth.

Judge Kenneth P. Nasif had ruled two weeks ago that Corneau, whose sect preaches against medical care, is an unfit mother, and placed her three children in state custody.

He denied the district attorney's request Tuesday to lock Corneau up until the baby is born, instead ordering daily checks by a nurse. But the nurse was barred Wednesday and again Thursday from examining Corneau at the home she shares with several other sect members. That led to the judge's new order Thursday.

Corneau is one of 13 members of the Christian sect suspected of burying the bodies of two infants in a Maine park last fall.

Her son, Jeremiah, was thought to have been stillborn, but prosecutors now say they have evidence that the infant lived for several minutes and that the boy's death was preventable. The fundamentalists file no birth records and do not use hospitals or doctors.

Another sect child, 10-month old Samuel Robidoux, allegedly starved to death after he stopped nursing. Prosecutors say that, by all accounts, the child was developing normally until the group stopped feeding him.

David Corneau, Jeremiah's father, is among eight sect members behind bars for refusing to cooperate in an investigation of the sect. Samuel's father is also jailed.

Members could face charges ranging from improper disposal of a body to murder, even though there are no bodies as evidence. No charges have been filed.

Prosecutors believe another of the sect's members is pregnant, but at an earlier stage than Corneau. Walsh wouldn't say what action might be taken.

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