Two members of an Attleboro, Mass., religious sect avoided jail--at least temporarily--when they were granted a stay of the enforcement of a contempt of court citation Thursday (Jan. 24) by a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice.

David and Rebecca Corneau were found in contempt by a juvenile court judge on Jan. 16 for failing to comply with an order to turn over their newborn child. They had been sentenced to two weeks in jail, but were free pending appeal. They were scheduled to begin their sentences Friday.

Rebecca Corneau gained national attention in August 2000 when she was jailed for refusing prenatal care. The Corneaus belong to a small sect called "the Body" that does not believe in medical intervention. In 1999, the Corneaus' son Jeremiah died shortly after childbirth. The Corneaus claim that Jeremiah was stillborn, but state officials believe that the baby's life would have saved had he been born in a hospital. Another child in the group, 10-month-old Samuel Robidoux, starved to death in 1999 after sect members stopped feeding him solid foods.

The bodies of both children were found buried in a state park in Maine in October 2000 after David Corneau struck an immunity agreement with police investigating the deaths of the children. David Corneau and several other sect members had been jailed for refusing to tell authorities where the children were buried.

Samuel Robidoux's parents, Jacques and Karen, have been charged with murder in his death. Another sect member, Michelle Mingo, has also been charged in the boy's death. Fourteen children of sect members have been taken into custody by the state.

Officials at the state's Department of Social Services believe that Rebecca Corneau gave birth to a child sometime in December, and that the couple is hiding the newborn. The Corneaus, whose three other children are in state custody, have refused to tell Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth P. Nasif where the child is, or even if the child was born. The Corneaus' lawyer, J.W. Carney, has argued that the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination means they do not have to testify.

In a hearing, Nasif reportedly stated that he wanted to stop the "body count" from rising. "Unfortunately, the history of this family and, and I'll use the word, the cult which they are members of, is severe," Nasif was quoted as saying in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. "It's replete with situations in which children have been put in harm's way."

An appeals court upheld Nasif's ruling of contempt on Jan. 24, meaning that the Corneaus would have been jailed Friday. But Justice Roderick Ireland of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered a stay of Nasif's order, pending further review.

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