Appeals court upholds removal of child from Attleboro sect parents

AP, Nov. 21, 2002

BOSTON / 3:30 p.m. — The Massachusetts appeals court today upheld the decision of a juvenile judge to strip the parental rights of two members of an Attleboro religious sect.

The court said the lower court judge had been right in 2000 to hand custody of a child of David and Rebecca Corneau, members of a religious sect known as “the Body” that rejects conventional medicine, to the state Department of Social Services.

In 1999, the couple’s son, Jeremiah, had died during a home birth. The Corneaus said the baby was stillborn. State investigators said the baby’s lungs were not properly cleared — a routine procedure in hospital births.

In 2000, David Corneau led investigators to the body of his son and that of another child of sect members, 1-year-old Samuel Robidoux, who had been buried in Baxter State Park in Maine. The Corneaus were not charged, but DSS took custody of three children in September that year.

Another child was born to the couple a month later, and DSS moved to take immediate custody. The judge, using evidence that had come up his hearing involving custody of the previous three children, sided with DSS.

Today, the state appeals court ruled that the judge was correct to give custody of the child, known by the pseudonym “Darla,” to DSS.

“The parents’ failure to visit Darla at any point in her young life, their involvement in the death of one child for whom they shared a parenting function, the circumstances surrounding the death of another biological child at birth, their failure to address the medical needs of the older children, and their inability to accept or understand the consequences of their actions all proved, by clear and convincing evidence, parental unfitness,” the court ruled.

Lawyers for the Corneaus did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

Another member of the religious sect, Jacques Robidoux, was convicted in June of first-degree murder after he admitted he watched Samuel starve over 51 days without solid food and die on April 26, 1999. The trial of his wife, Karen Robidoux, on a second-degree murder charge is set to begin Jan. 6. She has pleaded innocent.

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