7 Sep 2008

Warrants could lead to more FLDS charges

Deseret News - September 7, 2008

Grand jury will weigh evidence as church seeks their dismissal


by Ben Winslow

ELDORADO, Texas — When a grand jury meets here later this month, criminal indictments could be handed down against more members of the Fundamentalist LDS Church.

Search warrants reveal new names under investigation by law enforcement for alleged underage marriages, the Deseret News has learned. The April 9 search warrants obtained blood, cheek and hair samples from five men, three of whom have already been indicted on sexual assault charges.

The warrants accuse Raymond Jessop, Leroy Jessop, Michael George Emack, Nathan Jessop and Jackson Jessop of fathering children with girls who were all about 16 years old.

Some of that information is based on initial interviews with the girls themselves.

"(The girl) referred to herself as the 10th wife of Nathan Jessop; that the father of her child is Nathan Jessop; and that (the girl) lived with Nathan Jessop at the suspected place and premises," Texas 51st District Attorney's investigator Diane Wilson wrote in a probable-cause affidavit filed with one of the warrants.

Law enforcement returned with DNA samples on April 14 to help establish paternity.

Some of the men have been previously named in search warrants served during the raid on the YFZ Ranch. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence were removed from the temple grounds, including photographs, diaries, marriage and census records, and dictations by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Some of that evidence has been used in child-custody cases over the hundreds of FLDS children taken into state protective custody during the raid. Texas Child Protective Services has said it has evidence of at least 10 underage marriages. A CPS caseworker testified during a court hearing last week that an investigation revealed "48 percent of the men at the ranch were involved in underage marriage practices."

A CPS spokesman could not elaborate, citing the ongoing child welfare investigation.

Nathan Jessop is believed to be about 40 years old, according to another search warrant affidavit that authorities used in the raid. His wife is now 17 and was due to give birth in June, when she was still 16.

That same search warrant also said Jackson Jessop was 36. Wilson wrote that his alleged wife would have conceived her now 3-year-old son when she was 16.

A grand jury has been meeting for months here to consider evidence of crimes involving FLDS members. Six men, including Jeffs, have already been indicted on charges ranging from sexual assault and bigamy to failure to report child abuse.

Raymond Merril Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Michael George Emack, 57, and Merril Leroy Jessop, 33, are scheduled to appear in court here Monday.

The latest warrants also name an ex-member of the polygamous sect who gave information to Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran in the years leading up to the April 3 raid on the YFZ Ranch.

"Sheriff Doran advised affiant that Becky Musser has provided him with information regarding the FLDS on more than 100 occasions over the past four years, including as recently as April 8, 2008, and that, on each occasion, that information has proven to be reliable, true and correct," Wilson wrote in the probable cause statement.

Becky Musser is a sister of Elissa Wall, who was the star witness in Utah's case against Jeffs. Musser also testified at the trial and was married to Jeffs' father, Rulon, when she was a teenager.

Jeffs, the sect's 52-year-old leader, is serving a pair of 5-to-life sentences after being convicted on charges of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He performed a marriage between Wall, then 14, and her 19-year-old cousin.

In Arizona, Jeffs is facing sexual misconduct charges, accusing him of performing similar marriages. Texas prosecutors have said they will seek to extradite him here to face charges.

Doran would not comment on whether Musser specifically was his much-publicized confidential informant, who leaked information including salacious claims about sex on a bed in the FLDS Church's temple.

"There have been several people that have been contacted," he told the Deseret News on Friday.

In her probable cause statements, Wilson only said Musser provided them with information about FLDS customs and terms.

Law enforcement insists it was not any informant's tips that sparked the raid on the YFZ Ranch, but a phone call to a family crisis hotline from a frightened, pregnant 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," trapped in an abusive, polygamous marriage to an older man. CPS caseworkers and police responded to the FLDS compound to search for the girl.

The call is now believed to be a hoax. But at the ranch, authorities claim to have seen other evidence of abuse. That prompted a judge to order the removal of all of the children and sparked the nation's biggest custody case. A series of search warrants for evidence was also served.

Approximately 439 children were ultimately returned to their parents two months later when an Austin appeals court and the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state acted improperly and the children were not in immediate danger of abuse.

The FLDS Church and some of its members have filed legal challenges to have the search warrants and any evidence tossed. A hearing has been scheduled Oct. 1.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has declared a 33-year-old Colorado woman a "person of interest" in the hoax call.

This article was found at:

http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,700256964,00.html

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