Cult Children Saved By State of Massachusetts; Another Sought; Another Starved to Death


February 5, 2002

Massachusetts Sect Members Face Jail

Filed at 11:44 a.m. ET

BOSTON (AP) -- Two members of a religious sect that rejects modern medicine lost an appeal of a court order that they be jailed if they didn't hand over their newborn to authorities, setting up a court hearing Tuesday on whether they would remain free.

Rebecca and David Corneau appealed the order to the state's highest court, which rejected the appeal on Monday.

The Corneaus' argument that they should remain free despite their refusal to turn over the newborn -- or even acknowledge a baby exists -- ``defies common sense,'' Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland said.

That decision led to Tuesday's hearing before Judge Kenneth Nasif, who last month ordered the couple to hand over the baby or go to jail. He had said they could remain free while they appealed his order.

The Corneaus repeatedly have cited their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

They have refused to say whether the child exists, but witnesses say Rebecca Corneau appeared pregnant several months ago.

Child welfare officials say they fear the baby may be harmed because of the couple's religious practices. The Corneaus are members of a fundamentalist Christian sect called The Body, which rejects modern medicine and advocates faith healing.

State officials believe the couple are hiding the baby so the state won't take custody. Four of the couple's children have been taken by the state and placed with relatives who are not sect members.

Last week, J.W. Carney, the couple's attorney, argued before Ireland that the government can't force the Corneaus to give up their right against self-incrimination. He suggested the only choice was to give the Corneaus immunity from prosecution.

Ireland rejected the argument.

``The logical extension of the petitioners' argument would be that in every abuse and neglect case, parents could withhold production of children for identification purposes merely by invoking their rights against self-incrimination. That defies common sense,'' he wrote.

Carney did not immediately return a call for comment.

State Department of Social Services spokeswoman Carol Yelverton called the decision ``a victory for all children whose safety has been jeopardized by their own parents.''

But Yelverton said there's not much the state can do as long as the Corneaus refuse to cooperate.

``It stymies us, which is extremely frustrating because of the sense of urgency about finding the baby,'' Yelverton said. ``The point right now is 'Can we find this baby?'''

A son of the Corneaus' who died during a home birth in 1999 was secretly buried in a Maine forest, alongside an infant cousin who prosecutors said was starved to death by members of the sect.


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