Attleboro -- A Juvenile Court judge yesterday sent two Attleboro religious sect members back to jail for continuing to refuse to cooperate with the court.
Rebecca A. and David P. Corneau will be in jail until March 14, unless an appellate court intervenes before then. The Massachusetts Appeals Court will hold a hearing Tuesday at 2 p.m. on the Corneaus' request for an emergency order that they be set free while their case is on appeal.
Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth P. Nasif has ordered the Corneaus to bring to court a baby that he ruled was born in November or December. His ruling last month was based on neighbors' testimony that Rebecca Corneau, who appeared to be pregnant, seemed to be in labor one day in November as family members helped her to a van.
The Corneaus at first refused to tell Nasif anything about the pregnancy. But, after losing appeals at the Appeals Court and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Nasif was ready to send them to jail on Feb. 5. At a hearing that day, the Corneaus said they do not have a baby because Rebecca Corneau suffered a miscarriage in November.
Nasif ruled that he could not believe their testimony, offered after he had already ruled a child was born, without corroborating evidence, such as where the fetal remains are buried. The Corneaus refused to say, and Nasif sent them to jail pending yesterday's hearing.
The Corneaus' lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., did not present new arguments to the court yesterday, but reiterated comments he made at last week's hearing when Nasif initially jailed the Corneaus. Carney was accompanied by a stenographer, suggesting he was making his arguments for the benefit of the Appeals Court hearing next week, which would review the transcript of yesterday's hearing.
Carney said that the Corneaus were asserting rights to privacy and freedom of religion, as well as constitutional protections against being forced to implicate themselves in a crime. He said that, if the Corneaus divulged what became of the fetal remains, they could be charged with improper disposal of a body.
Last week, Dist. Atty. Paul F. Walsh Jr. issued a letter saying he would not prosecute the Corneaus for improper disposal if they cooperated with Nasif.
"This letter by the district attorney is nothing," said Carney, who explained that only a grant of immunity from a Superior Court judge would be sufficient.
Nasif disagreed. "This letter signed by the district attorney clearly protects them from the concern you have raised today," said the judge. Besides, he added, in a similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that evidence parents are forced to give in a child custody case cannot be used against them in a criminal case because it was not given freely.
Carney reiterated the request he made last week, that Nasif remove himself from the case, saying Nasif had prejudged the Corneaus. He also requested a jury trial on the question of whether Rebecca Corneau suffered a miscarriage, and dismissal of the child custody case brought by the state Department of Social Services or, at least, an immediate and public trial on that matter.
Nasif denied all the requests.
Paula Rossen, a lawyer for Social Services, said that Carney's arguments missed the mark and that parents' rights take a back seat to the rights of children to be free from abuse and neglect. "What we're really dealing with here is yet another smoke screen," said Rossen.
John J. Rego, the lawyer appointed to represent the Corneaus' baby, urged the judge not to credit their account of a miscarriage. "Clearly, the Corneaus' claim that there was a miscarriage cannot be taken at face value."
Rossen also took a dim view of their testimony, saying the Corneaus had not provided even basic details about the miscarriage, such as the month, day or even time of day it happened. "The Corneaus gave this court very little information."
When Nasif said he was going to jail the Corneaus for a month, Carney interrupted and asked Nasif to schedule a new hearing in 10 days.
Nasif said he did not think that would accomplish anything, and stayed with the March 14 date.