17 Dec 2008

No new indictments of FLDS members but probe continues

The Salt Lake Tribune - December 17, 2008

by Brooke Adams

A Texas grand jury that has indicted 12 members of a polygamous sect concluded its final meeting Tuesday without issuing any new charges.

The Schleicher County grand jury met in Eldorado for about 3 1/2 hours before adjourning at noon, a county clerk said. This fall, 51st District Judge Barbara Walther extended the panel's term until the end of the year because of the ongoing investigation into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The investigation, overseen by the Texas Attorney General's Office, began after a raid at the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch last April. The raid was triggered by reports of abuse now believed to have been a hoax.

Texas authorities later confirmed the numbers used to call a domestic violence shelter belong to Rozita Swinton of Colorado Springs, Colo, who has a history of making fake abuse calls.

"We cannot and will not comment on an ongoing investigation," said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, when asked about Swinton.

Texas child welfare investigators removed about 439 children from the ranch during the raid. The children remained in state custody for two months before the Texas Supreme Court ordered them returned to their parents. Most of the cases involving the children have been dismissed.

At present, 19 children still have cases pending before Walther. One teenage girl was returned to state custody in August after her mother balked at state requests.

Authorities, however, have used DNA evidence taken from parents and children and documents seized from the ranch to build cases against FLDS men.

Since June the grand jury has charged 12 sect members, including sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, with crimes related to underage or plural marriages. A new grand jury was seated in October but won't take over until January, a Schleicher county clerk said.

"Our investigation is ongoing and, if needed, we will request another grand jury be empaneled to hear evidence," Strickland said.

A closer look at the 12 indicted FLDS men

Those indicted so far and their charges they face:

» Warren S. Jeffs, 53, aggravated sexual assault; sexual assault of a minor; bigamy.

» Lloyd H. Barlow, 38, failure to report child abuse.

» Keith William Dutson, 23, sexual assault of a minor.

» Michael George Emack, 57, bigamy.

» Allan Eugene Keate, 56, sexual assault of a minor.

» Abram Harker Jeffs, 37, bigamy; sexual assault of a minor.

» Lehi Barlow Jeffs, 29, bigamy; sexual assault of a minor.

» Fredrick Merril Jessop, 72, conducting an unlawful marriage.

» Merril Leroy Jessop, 33, sexual assault of a minor; bigamy.

» Raymond Merril Jessop, 36, sexual assault of a minor; bigamy.

» Wendell Loy Nielsen, 68, bigamy.

» Leroy Johnson Steed, 42, sexual assault of a minor; two counts of bigamy; tampering with evidence.

What will happen next?

On Thursday and Friday, Arizona attorney Michael Piccarreta will travel to Eldorado, Texas, to question three law officers -- Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, deputy sheriff John Connor and Texas Ranger Brooks Long -- about calls for help and evidence seized in April from the YFZ Ranch, home to members of a polygamous sect. Piccarreta represents sect leader Warren S. Jeffs, who faces charges in Arizona related to underage marriages he conducted.

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