Taunton -- Attleboro cultist David Corneau cried yesterday after giving grim details of the starvation of the son of the sect's leader and recalling how he and three others buried the boy's remains in Maine.
"Samuel was losing weight and he needed prayers," Corneau said of 11-month-old Samuel Robidoux. "His face was thinning. He was losing weight."
Corneau's chilling tale marked the first time anyone has publicly recalled how the boy was systematically starved to death over a six- week period in 1999. Prosecutors say sect leader Jacques Robidoux and his wife, Karen, denied their son food to fulfill a bizarre religious vision handed down by the child's aunt, Michelle Mingo.
Corneau, who has been granted immunity in the case, remembered Samuel as a "normal baby" who "laughed, smiled, cried, messed his diaper." But in the months before he died in April 1999, he recalled how the boy "cried more often."
"It changed from a normal cry of a child being hungry to a cry of hurt, like something was wrong," Corneau testified during Jacques Robidoux's murder trial in Taunton Superior Court. "His cry was a little bit hoarse, not loud."
Prosecutors say the reclusive sect, which rejects doctors, banking and government, ignored the child's cries and prayed, rather than give him food. Corneau admitted he was upset by the boy's worsening condition.
"I may have mentioned that it doesn't sound like he's doing well. Like something's wrong," he said. Corneau said he "cried" when Jacques Robidoux told him the boy died.
Samuel's body was stored in the basement of the group's Seekonk home for months until it was taken to Maine's Baxter State Park in September 1999 and buried in a makeshift grave. Buried with the boy was Corneau's son, Jeremiah, who died during a home birth.
Both bodies were put into baskets and placed in handmade caskets before being taken to Maine in a trailer. Corneau, Jacques Robidoux and brothers Tim and Mark Daneau hiked for hours into the wilderness before burying the remains on a rocky hillside. The men covered the boxes with plastic and spread ashes over them to mask the scent from animals. The graves were marked with branches fashioned into crosses.