Aug 22, 2008

3 more indicted in Texas FLDS probe

Ben Winslow
Deseret News
August 22, 2008

ELDORADO, Texas — One by one, the women of the Fundamentalist LDS Church were called before the grand jury to testify in secret about allegations of crimes within the Utah-based polygamous sect.

By the end of the day, three felony indictments were handed down.

"There's three different indictments, three different names," Schleicher County court clerk Peggy Williams confirmed late Thursday. She would not say who was indicted or what the charges were.

The Texas Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting the cases, also declined comment on the indictments.

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran told the Deseret News he had not yet received any arrest warrants.

"Whatever they hand to us, we will actively pursue if it is an arrest warrant," he said.

The indictments came at the end of a nerve-wracking day for members of the FLDS Church. The young women arrived at the Schleicher County Memorial Building in the morning. There, they waited for most of the day as the weather in this tiny west Texas town turned hot and humid and thunderstorms moved in.

To pass the time, a few of the women whipped out digital cameras and took pictures of everything around them. One smiled as she posed for a picture with a Texas Ranger. They joked with a Deseret News photographer about who would have the better pictures.

When it came time to testify, an officer would walk out to where they were waiting. Their attorneys would escort them to the doors, but the women went in alone. The grand jury was meeting in a building that often serves as a one-room courthouse, complete with folding chairs and a card table acting as a judge's bench.

Throughout the proceedings, the young women would often walk out of the building and huddle with their attorneys, a nervous look on their faces. They would then go back in to resume their testimony. This happened numerous times, leading to speculation that some young women were refusing to answer questions under their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

"This has been a very painful process for the people," said FLDS member and spokesman Willie Jessop. "It's certainly had a tremendous toll on everyone involved. My heart certainly goes out to every one of these girls involved."

Jessop also testified, but he could not say what he told the panel because of laws dictating grand jury secrecy.

"We certainly believe there's a God, and we believe he will judge," Jessop said Thursday. "All those who judge will be judged themselves."

The grand jury is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 23.

Six men were indicted by the grand jury last month. FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, 52; Raymond Merril Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Merril Leroy Jessop, 33; and Michael Emack, 57; were charged with sexual assault, accusing them of relationships with underage girls.

Merril Leroy Jessop also was charged with bigamy, and FLDS community physician Lloyd Hammond Barlow, 38, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failure to report child abuse. The men are scheduled to be arraigned here on Sept. 8.

Jeffs will get notice of the arraignment, Williams said, but he may not be there. The FLDS leader is currently in an Arizona jail awaiting trial on sexual misconduct charges there, accused of performing underage marriages. He is scheduled for a hearing in Kingman, Ariz., today.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah and sentenced to a pair of five-years-to-life sentences for rape as an accomplice, having performed a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Texas authorities have said they would seek to extradite him to the Lone Star state.

The criminal probe into the FLDS Church stems from the April raid on the group's YFZ Ranch near here based on a call from someone claiming to be an abused teenager. Child welfare authorities placed 440 children in state protective custody while investigating other abuse allegations. The original call is believed to be a hoax.

The children were returned to their parents when two Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly.


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