An Attleboro cult elder released from jail in November has helped rebuild a wall of silence surrounding the fundamentalist group and could hinder efforts by one member to get back his newborn daughter, authorities close to the case said yesterday.
``Ever since Roland (Robidoux) got out of jail, the group has reconstituted itself,'' said the Rev. Robert T. Pardon, a court-appointed guardian for the newborn daughter of cultists David and Rebecca Corneau. ``Two children have died, but nothing has changed.''
The Corneaus were back in an Attleboro courthouse yesterday fighting for custody of their 2-month-old daughter, Kattereina. The baby, who was born while Rebecca Corneau was hospitalized under court order, was immediately taken by the Department of Social Services and placed with relatives outside the cult.
Pardon and a source said since Robidoux was released from jail, the group has returned to its insular ways - refusing to answer questions, take phone calls or meet with officials.
Robidoux, 60, was one of several cult members locked up for stonewalling investigators, but was released in November when murder indictments were handed down against sect leader Jacques Robidoux, 27, and his wife, Karen, 25. The two are charged with the 1999 starvation death of their 10-month-old son, Samuel.
Jacques' sister, 35-year-old Michelle Mingo, faces conspiracy charges for allegedly concocting the ``vision'' that the boy was not to be fed. Roland Robidoux, like his son, Jacques, is considered a group leader, but was not charged in connection with Samuel's death. Roland is believed to be the only group member not in jail who has a ``direct pipeline'' to God and can bring forth ``visions,'' Pardon said.
Samuel was missing for months before David Corneau led police to a makeshift grave in Maine's Baxter State Park in October. Buried with Samuel was Corneau's son, Jeremiah, who died during a home birth. Corneau's immunity deal protects him and his wife from prosecution, but requires him to testify. ``Once he cut the deal with the DA, he went right back to the compound and now, with Roland out, nothing has changed,'' Pardon said. David Corneau has withdrawn back into the sect and last week refused to meet with Pardon and other officials.
``He hasn't cooperated in any way at all,'' Pardon said. ``David needs a new environment.'' Pardon, a cult expert and deprogrammer with 10 years experience, was appointed by the Attleboro court to oversee the newborn and has assisted Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh to interpret thousands of pages of the group's journals. The journals allegedly detail how and why Samuel was starved and are key evidence in the murder case.
David Corneau's attorney, Robert George, said his client is reluctant to cooperate with DSS and has refused to attend ``exit counseling'' - even if it will win back his daughter. ``They will never be told what to do or how to raise their child,'' George said. ``They haven't co-operated at all.'' Rebecca Corneau yesterday refused to even sign a form to file her daughter's name.
George said he fears the murder case and David Corneau's immunity deal, paired with the couple's lack of cooperation, will sink their chances of getting back their daughter. ``I'm hopeful the court will keep an open mind in this case,'' George said.
Maine authorities, meanwhile, said yesterday that they're still mulling the possibility of charging several members of the sect with ``abuse of a corpse'' - a misdemeanor - for illegally burying the children in Baxter State Park.