Corneau and her husband, David, were ordered to the New Bedford, Mass., House of Correction until Feb. 14 for contempt of court. The Corneaus, members of a Attleboro, Mass., sect known as "the Body" that rejects modern medicine, were originally sentenced on Jan. 16 but had been free pending appeal. On Monday, Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland rejected their appeal.
Officials at the state Department of Social Services believe that Rebecca Corneau gave birth to a child sometime in December. The Corneaus, whose three other children are in state custody, had refused to tell Attleboro Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth P. Nasif where the child was, or even if the child was ever born.
The Corneau's lawyer, J.W. Carney, has argued that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination means that they do not have to testify. At a hearing Tuesday, the Corneaus testified that their baby was miscarried. They were jailed after refusing to tell Nasif where the body was buried. The Corneaus have until Feb. 14 to reveal where they buried the child, or they face being returned to jail.
"They refused to say what the sex of that baby was or where the body is buried," said the Rev. Robert Pardon, guardian ad litem for the Corneau children in state custody. "The judge didn't believe them." According to the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, state investigators are searching for sect members Mark and Trinette Daneau, whom they believe may have the Corneaus' child.
The Corneaus' attorney claims that his clients are being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. "It is unprecedented that a woman who suffers a tragic miscarriage is ordered by a judge to produce the remains of the fetus or be sent to a prison, as has happened to Mrs. Corneau," Carney said. "Even a woman who intentionally decides to abort a fetus is given more protection from government intrusion."
Three other members of the group have been charged in the death of 10-month-old Samuel Robidoux, who starved to death in 1999 after sect members stopped feeding him solid foods. The Corneaus' son Jeremiah also died in 1999, shortly after birth. The Corneaus claim Jeremiah was stillborn, but state officials believe the baby would have survived if he had been born in a hospital.
The bodies of both children were found buried in a state park in Maine in October 2000. David Corneau told authorities where the children were buried after being granted immunity from prosecution. He and several other sect members had been jailed for refusing to cooperate with investigators. Fourteen children of sect members have been taken into custody by the state.
Pardon, director of the New England Institute of Religious Research, an anti-cult organization, has reviewed journals kept by the sect and says they believe that it is "more important to follow God than to save human life." "That's why they allowed one child to basically starve to death and another to die at childbirth," Pardon said.