26 May 2008

Polygamy: A World Apart

A 48 Hours special, "Polygamy: A World Apart," airs Tuesday, May 27, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, on CBS

(CBS) On Thursday, the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that officials did not have sufficient grounds to seize over 450 children living in the Eldorado, Texas compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

On April 3, the FLDS was thrust into the spotlight when authorities raided the compound after an abuse hotline received a call from someone claiming to be a 16-year old child bride being abused by her older husband. After seeing what appeared to be a number of underage pregnant girls authorities removed the children, fearing they were being abused.

In the 48 Hours special "Polygamy: A World Apart," Tuesday, May 27, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, CBS News correspondents delve into this secretive world with insider accounts, harrowing escape stories, interviews with law enforcement officials and an explosive interview with high-ranking FLDS member Willie Jessop. The broadcast will explore the stunning court decision and examine the religious sect from the inside out.

Correspondent Susan Spencer sheds light on the sect's practices and self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, who, despite being in prison for his conviction as an accomplice to the rape of a minor, continues to lead the FLDS empire in a number of states. Additionally, these communities support themselves in part through various federal programs. In an interview with Spencer, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff describes the FLDS as "the American Taliban" for the way it treats women and compares it to "an organized crime group." Spencer also sits down with private detective Sam Brower, who has been investigating the FLDS for years, and says that this is not about religion but "about child abuse, on a scale that's never been seen before in this country." And, Spencer talks to Elissa Wall, 21, who was 14 when she was forced into marriage and who was eventually responsible for Jeffs' imprisonment.

What is next for the members of this Texas compound? Correspondent Peter Van Sant goes in search of answers as he interviews neighbors of the compound and Willie Jessop, who discusses life in the church in a confrontational interview. "My faith does not break the law," Jessop proclaims. He goes on to call the state’s demand for birth certificates and DNA samples un-American. "I am innocent until proven guilty. They haven’t got one woman that says 'please save me.' They haven't found one child that says, 'please save me,'" he contends.

The broadcast will also feature the exclusive story of two teenage girls, about to married, who fled from the FLDS community in Salt Lake City, Utah. 48 Hours documented their dramatic escape in 1999 and has followed their bid for freedom ever since. Now, nine years later, correspondent Erin Moriarty catches up with Sarah, whose escape came at the expense of her family. As she prepares to reunite with Laura Chapman, the woman who helped them break free, Sarah recalls life in the FLDS: "One of the things we kept hearing over and over again was that they needed to break my spirit. I laughed too much. I was too happy."
While the allegations of abuse against young girls have taken center-stage, what about the experiences of young boys? Correspondent Seth Doane reports on the emotional journey of four boys who studied under Jeffs. Now excised from the sect, they struggle to find their way in the outside world, separated from the security of their families and homes.

Correspondent Troy Roberts explores the modern face of polygamy. With one husband three wives - two of them twins - and 22 children living in a suburb of Salt Lake City, they have jobs, wear make-up and their kids go to public school. They do, however, face challenges fitting in.

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