A pregnant Attleboro cult member suspected of covering up the death of her last baby vowed to defy a judge's order that she allow an appointed health aide to help deliver her child - and could be locked up as early as today.
"In no way at all will I accept any kind of medical assistance. It is against God," Rebecca Corneau, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant, boldly told Attleboro Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Nasif yesterday.
Nasif - who just two weeks ago deemed Corneau an unfit mother and took away her three kids - refused a prosecutor's request to put the woman in a secure health facility until her baby is born, instead giving her a chance to comply with court-ordered daily visits from an Attleboro nurse.
But Corneau, described by one prosecutor as "cocky," vowed to ignore the judge's order.
"I will not allow her into my home," Corneau, 32, told the court, referring to the nurse. "I will not be examined by anyone. As far as I'm concerned, it's none of their business."
Attleboro nurse Beth Collins was slated to visit the cult's Attleboro home sometime late yesterday or early today to check on Corneau, but Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. said he "has no faith" she will comply.
Walsh said he expects to be back in court as early as today, once again seeking to have her taken into state custody. The petition to have Corneau put into a secure setting is believed to be the first of its kind in Massachusetts.
Walsh, who confirmed that a second cult member is pregnant and could be affected by yesterday's ruling, said his goal is not to punish Corneau, but "to protect the baby."
"We've got two dead babies here. I don't want a third dead baby," the DA said. "The last thing we want is to have a third child buried up in Baxter State Park."
Prosecutors say Corneau's son, Jeremiah, and his 10-month-old cousin, Samuel, were buried in tiny coffins in Maine's Baxter State Park during a religious outing late last summer. Samuel is believed to have starved to death after he stopped nursing, while Corneau says her son was stillborn.
Investigators have not found the boys' bodies, despite searches in the sprawling Maine park and at the cult's Attleboro home and their former Seekonk compound.
Corneau's husband, 32-year-old David Corneau, appeared at the care and protection hearing yesterday in handcuffs and backed his wife, citing their hardline religious beliefs. David Corneau is among eight members of the Christian fundamentalist sect behind bars for stonewalling a grand jury probing the boys' disappearances.
"You cannot force the medical system on myself or my wife," David Corneau proclaimed. "Only one holds the key to life and death and that's God Almighty himself, not the medical system."
While the Corneaus say Jeremiah was stillborn, prosecutors say they have evidence that the infant lived "five or 10 minutes" before dying a preventable death during birth.
"We have a respected medical opinion that Jeremiah was born alive," Walsh said.
Dr. Eli Newberger of Children's Hospital, assigned to the case by Walsh, pored over thousands of pages of journals detailing the cult's activity, which include graphic and vivid descriptions of Jeremiah's ill-fated birth and Samuel's alleged starvation.
According to the evidence, prosecutors say, Jeremiah was born with pink skin and was attempting to breathe but suffocated in the birth canal. His life, Walsh says, could have been saved with the help of a health worker.
Prosecutors also say they have pictures of Samuel which depict him as a "fat-faced, robust kid" and that by all accounts, he was developing normally until the group - at the urging of Samuel's father, reputed cult leader Jacques Robidoux - stopped feeding him.
Samuel is believed to have been starved for about three months before succumbing last April.
"He was eating solid food and looks like he was a healthy, happy-go-lucky kid," prosecutor Walter Shea said.
Robidoux, 27, is among those behind bars for refusing to talk to the grand jury. His wife, Karen Robidoux, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and is free.
The grand jury could return indictments against members of the group on charges ranging from improper disposal of a body to murder.
Walsh said Newberger's descriptions of both children's deaths are "horrifying," especially the graphic accounts of how Samuel's face grew "shallow" and his "eyeballs literally began sagging out of the sockets." His cries, Walsh said, went from screams of hunger to desperation to agony to the point where he had no voice.
"They let a child die a horrible death," Walsh said. "To see they did nothing shocks the conscience."
Nasif, who called Walsh's unprecedented court action "courageous," warned Corneau that violating his order would be akin to contempt of court. In all, Nasif has taken 13 children from the cult and put them into Department of Social Services custody.