24 Jan 2009

Polygamist Sect leader's Fifth pleadings to be reviewed

Go San Angelo - January 23, 2009

by Paul A. Anthony

Even after eight hours in a Schleicher County courtroom, the deposition of YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop may not be over.

Attorneys for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints elder and his alleged teenage daughter-in-law will argue in court Monday over whether Jessop should be able to plead Fifth Amendment protection to a series of questions regarding the polygamous sect's financial structure.

"There are quite a few (answers) that are in controversy," said Natalie Malonis, the Denton attorney representing a 17-year-old daughter of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. "He answered some of it. I hope that on Monday when we have our hearing, (the judge) will compel answers."

51st District Judge Barbara Walther set the hearing, Malonis said, after compelling testimony in a 30-minute telephone proceeding on some efforts by Jessop to plead the Fifth, which protects witnesses from being forced to give answers under oath that could incriminate them.

The sect's own documents describe the girl as having been married to Jessop's 36-year-old son. Jessop, 72, has been indicted by a Schleicher County grand jury on charges of orchestrating an illegal marriage ceremony involving a different underage girl.

Malonis said she has not contested all of Jessop's Fifth Amendment pleadings, but that she asked Walther to compel testimony on questions of the sect's finances.

"He may be the only person who can answer that information," she said.

Malonis has said she is looking for ways to provide her client with financial options once she turns 18 in July.

Jessop's criminal attorney, Amy Hennington of San Angelo, who represented him during the civil deposition, could not be reached for comment.

Testimony began about 9 a.m. and the gaggle of attorneys - representing Jessop, the state's Child Protective Services agency, the girl and her mother, Annette Jeffs - left the courthouse just before 5 p.m.

Jessop has been the leader of the ranch since the Jeffs' 2006 arrest and has long been considered the self-styled prophet's chief deputy. The reclusive figure is one of 12 FLDS men indicted on evidence seized in a weeklong April raid on the ranch by CPS investigators and the Texas Rangers.

Authorities removed 439 children from the ranch, and although most have been returned, a handful of custody cases - including the one involving the 17-year-old girl - remain pending in Tom Green County district court.

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