Pregnant sect member avoids jail

The Associated Press / August 29, 2000
By Chris Lehourites

Attleboro, Mass. (AP) - A judge denied a prosecutor's request Tuesday to lock up a pregnant member of a fundamentalist sect suspected of covering up the death of her last baby. The judge instead ordered a nurse to visit the woman daily in an effort to protect the unborn child.

Judge Kenneth P. Nasif's decision came despite protests from both Rebecca Corneau, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, and her husband, who has been in jail for refusing to cooperate in an investigation into the sect.

"In no way at all will I accept any kind of medical assistance. It is against God," Mrs. Corneau told the judge in the closed-door hearing, according to Gerald Fitzgerald, an assistant district attorney.

Fitzgerald said Mrs. Corneau's husband, David, who was led into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons, told the court: "You cannot force the medical system on myself and my wife. Only one holds the key to life and death, and that's God Almighty himself, not the medical system."

Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. went to Attleboro Juvenile Court to argue for the unusual "pre-emptive care" petition to put Corneau in custody for the remainder of her pregnancy.

"Someone must act to protect that baby," Walsh said in a news release. "I would never forgive myself if I stood by doing nothing and then something bad happened to that baby."

Nasif authorized the nurse to call for police assistance if she is denied access to the house. If Mrs. Corneau refuses to allow the nurse in, she could be jailed for contempt.

Fitzgerald said she responded that "I will not allow her in my home."

Nasif ruled two weeks ago that Mrs. Corneau, 32, is an unfit mother, and placed her three children in state custody.

Sitting outside the courtroom before the hearing with four other women, Corneau said she had no comment.

A lawyer for The Providence Journal made a request to be allowed into the hearing. But the judge refused the media access, saying it was a care and protection hearing.

The Corneaus are two of 13 members of a Christian sect suspected of burying bodies of two young children in a Maine park last fall.

Members of the fundamentalist sect do not use hospitals or doctors and file no birth records. According to a group member's journal uncovered by investigators, the Corneaus son Jeremiah was thought to have been stillborn. The other child, 10-month old Samuel Robidoux, allegedly starved to death after he stopped nursing.

Like David Corneau, Samuel's father, Jacques Robidoux, the sect's reputed leader, is among the eight sect members who are behind bars.

The journal claimed group members viewed Samuel's death as the will of God. Police have unsuccessfully searched the park three times for buried children.

Prosecutors were citing the state laws allowing officials to take custody of children who are suffering from abuse and neglect. They planned to argue that the law applied even to a fetus.

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