30 Jul 2008

5 polygamist sect members arraigned in abuse of girls

Dallas Morning News - July 30, 2008

by Emily Ramshaw | Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Five men from a West Texas polygamist sect were arraigned on Tuesday, the day after they surrendered on charges related to the sexual assault and "spiritual" marriage of underage girls.

As of Tuesday evening, four of the men – members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – remained in custody in Schleicher County. A fifth had posted bail and been released, a sect official said.

A sixth suspect, sect prophet Warren Jeffs, is in jail in Arizona, but could be extradited to Texas to face his sexual assault charge.

Sect leader Willie Jessop, who is speaking for the group in Mr. Jeffs' absence, said he couldn't confirm whether the other men who surrendered would post bail, and said he wasn't at liberty to answer any more questions.

"I can't go on the record with anything right now – I'll explain later," said Mr. Jessop, who has called the charges outrageous. "When all of this comes out, you will be very amused and shocked."

Mr. Jeffs and four other men – Merril Leroy Jessop, 33; Raymond Jessop, 36; Michael Emack, 57; and Allan Keate, 56, – were charged with first-degree felony sexual assault of a child, a crime punishable by five years to life in prison. The younger Mr. Jessop is also charged with first-degree felony bigamy, which means one of his alleged wives is younger than 16. At least three of the other men, including Mr. Jeffs, are believed to have taken underage wives.

Dr. Lloyd Barlow, a 38-year-old physician whose indictment indicates he delivered the babies of underage mothers on the Yearning for Zion ranch, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse.

Any of the men who post bail will be required to refrain from contacting their alleged victims, surrender their passports, remain within the state of Texas and notify authorities before leaving the county, according to a statement released by the attorney general's office.

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