Court orders sect couple to surrender newborn baby

Pawtucket Times/January 24, 2002

Boston -- An appeals court judge ruled Wednesday that two members of a religious sect that rejects mainstream medicine must turn over their newborn baby to the state, but gave the couple time for further appeal.

In her ruling, Justice Janis M. Berry upheld a ruling last week by a Bristol County juvenile judge who ordered Rebecca and David Corneau held behind bars after they refused to turn over the baby.

Juvenile Judge Kenneth Nasif had allowed the Corneaus to remain free pending their appeal. Berry said she expected a further appeal of her decision, so she extended a stay of Nasif's ruling until Friday.

Michael MacCormack, spokesperson for the state Department of Social Services, said the agency, while pleased with Berry's ruling, is still primarily interested in finding the alleged Corneau child and will continue efforts to find the baby while the Corneaus press their appeal in higher courts.

"We're concerned that we haven't been able to view the child," MacCormack said."But we're still basically doing what we can" to locate the baby.

The Corneaus are members of an Attleboro-based sect known as "The Body,"which came under scrutiny in 1999 with the disappearance of two children of sect members, including the Corneaus' newborn son.

The couple has refused even to acknowledge in court if they've had another child. Witnesses have testified that Rebecca Corneau appeared pregnant several months ago but no longer appears so.

In arguments before the Massachusetts Appeals Court on Tuesday, the Corneaus' attorney, J.W. Carney, said the Corneaus properly invoked their Fifth Amendment rights when they refused to answer questions about the baby for fear of self-incrimination.

The state maintains the welfare of the child outweighs any concerns of possible criminal prosecution of the parents.

Carney said later he worries that the state will never allow the Corneaus to raise children because of their religious beliefs.

"The Corneaus are very simple folk,"he said. "They don't have a radio or TV. They spend a lot of time in prayer.

"The most exuberant thing they do is stand around a piano and play hymns,"he said.

State officials believe the couple is hiding the baby so the state won't take custody. The couple's other four children have been taken away from them and placed in state custody, with relatives who are not sect members. One daughter was born last year while Rebecca Corneau was being held in contempt of court for refusing a medical exam.

Children of other sect members also have been put in state custody.

David Corneau was one of eight members of the group jailed for refusing to answer questions from a grand jury investigating the 1999 disappearance of his son and the 10-month-old son of another sect member.

After spending 130 days behind bars, Corneau led investigators to the two bodies buried in Baxter State Park in Maine, after he was promised immunity for himself, his wife and three other sect members.

His son was believed to have died shortly after birth and no one has been charged in his death. However, authorities believe the other boy --10-month-old Samuel Robidoux --was starved to death. Three sect members have been charged with his murder.

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