10 Nov 2010

Defense in FLDS trial wants evidence of defendant's polygamous lifestyle kept from jury

New York Times - November 3, 2009

Difficulties for Prosecutors in Trial of Sect Leader


ELDORADO, Tex. — A year and a half after the state authorities raided a fundamentalist Mormon ranch here, the first of a half-dozen leaders of the sect has gone on trial on charges that he had sex with an under-age girl who state officials assert was one of several wives assigned to him by church elders.

The trial, taking place in a makeshift courtroom in this rural hamlet, has opened a window on the polygamous world inside the Yearning for Zion ranch, the compound of log buildings built around a stone temple where the state contends that arranged marriages involving under-age girls were commonplace.

But the proceeding has also exposed the difficulties prosecutors face in proving sex crimes were committed at the ranch, since the young woman at the center of the case, like most of the female sect members, has not cooperated with the authorities.

The state’s case rests mainly on genetic evidence that links the defendant, Raymond M. Jessop, 38, to a child born in 2005 to the 16-year-old girl he was living with along with several other women.

On Monday, Amy Smuts, a forensic scientist at the University of North Texas, testified that DNA samples taken from Mr. Jessop, the young woman and her baby showed Mr. Jessop was the likely father of the child. She said there was a 99.9 percent probability Mr. Jessop had fathered the child, who is now 4.

In addition, the state has introduced dozens of documents and photographs seized from the ranch in April 2008 in an effort to prove that Mr. Jessop was not legally married to the girl at the time and that she was impregnated by him while they were living in Texas. Both are necessary for the charge to be valid.

The defense, meanwhile, has fought to keep the jury from seeing any evidence regarding Mr. Jessop’s polygamous lifestyle, arguing that it is irrelevant to the charge of sexual assault.

Defense lawyers have also labored to cast doubt on the state’s genetic expert, forcing Ms. Smuts to acknowledge that mistakes had been made in the university’s laboratory in the past and that the laboratory did not take into account the possibility that a relative of Mr. Jessop’s might be the father.

Further, Mr. Jessop’s lawyers have raised questions in court about whether the state can prove any assault even took place in Texas.

Mr. Jessop faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He also faces a separate charge of bigamy that has yet to go to trial. Four other senior members of the sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, face similar charges, chief among them Warren S. Jeffs, the founder of the group.

Mr. Jeffs is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on charges related to arranging under-age marriages there. He was also arrested in Utah in 2006 and later convicted as an accomplice to rape.

The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Eric Nichols, said at a hearing on Monday, with the jury in a separate room, that the girl had been moved to the ranch from another state and placed in a “celestial marriage” with Mr. Jessop in November 2003, when she was 15. In previous court filings, prosecutors have said Mr. Jessop had nine wives.

In all, 12 members of the church have been indicted since the Texas authorities raided the Yearning for Zion ranch in April 2008, seized hundreds of documents and took 439 children into state custody. The raid turned into a disaster for state authorities when an appellate court later ruled that the children should be returned to their parents because the state had not proved they were endangered.

Still, documents seized in the raid are being used by the Texas Attorney General’s Office in the trial of Mr. Jessop and the other defendants.

The sect is a splinter group not recognized by the Mormon Church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. Though the group has its roots along the Arizona-Utah border, church members bought a ranch outside Eldorado about six years ago.

The ranch had a clinic set up specifically as a birthing center for the women on the ranch. A portrait of Mr. Jeffs, whom the members of the group refer to as a prophet, can be seen hanging over the delivery bed in photographs shown to the jury.

In a lengthy hearing on Tuesday without the jury present, Mr. Nichols said the state intended to prove from documents kept by the church that the 16-year-old girl underwent three days of difficult labor in the clinic, but that Mr. Jeffs, in a dictated memorandum, ordered that she not be taken to a hospital because social workers might question her about her relationship with Mr. Jessop.

Mr. Jessop’s lawyer, Mark Stevens, argued that the document should not be shown to the jury because it was unclear who the author was and because it alleged misconduct that had nothing to do with sexual assault. “It goes beyond the charge in the indictment,” Mr. Stevens said. Judge Barbara Walther of State District Court overruled him.

The judge also said she would allow into evidence another memorandum, supposedly dictated by Mr. Jeffs, that said the girl had previously been assigned as a wife to Raymond Jessop’s brother Ernest M. Jessop in November 2003. The memorandum suggested that the girl was transferred to Raymond Jessop in August 2004, a year before she gave birth.

Throughout the first week of the trial, Mr. Jessop has sat calmly at the defense table in a white shirt and no tie, resting his chin on his hand, with a genial expression, as the details of his private life are discussed. He has not spoken to reporters.

This article was found at:



Google News - Associated Press November 3, 2009

Judge orders redaction of polygamist documents


ELDORADO, Texas — A Texas judge ordered Tuesday that a document showing a member of a polygamist sect had at least four wives who were pregnant or nursing at the same time should be excluded from his trial on charges of child sexual abuse.

In a hearing before jurors were to return for the trial of 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, District Judge Barbara Walther ordered that several documents demonstrating his multiple marriages be redacted to show jurors only information about the alleged victim.

Jessop later will face a separate trial on bigamy charges, and his attorney Mark Stevens sought to prevent any mention of polygamy in this case. He is charged with sexual assault of a child — a teenage girl he allegedly married and fathered a child with — and could face up to 20 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

Walther said a list taken from a records vault at the Yearning For Zion Ranch should be redacted to remove the names of other families and three other alleged wives who were pregnant or nursing shortly after the alleged victim gave birth to a girl in August 2005.

The judge also ordered prosecutors to hold back any dictations of Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect, to include only information about Jessop and the alleged victim before offering them into evidence.

Jeffs, convicted previously as an accomplice to rape in Utah, is regarded as a prophet by the sect, and he recorded rambling daily dictations covering a range of religious teachings and orders regarding the YFZ Ranch.

The judge did not immediately rule on several documents that could demonstrate Jessop's polygamist marriages, including photos of two wives in prairie dresses alongside him and church marriage certificates for the alleged victim and another woman on the same day. Prosecutors have argued that the evidence of multiple marriages was being used to prove an element of the alleged crime, which requires them to show the defendant was not legally married to the alleged victim.

Authorities allege the girl, now 21, was married to Jessop at age 15 and gave birth at 16. Church records that defense attorneys are fighting to keep out of the trial indicate the girl had previously been married to Jessop's brother before being reassigned to Jessop, who authorities allege has nine wives.

Forensic expert Amy Smuts had testified Monday that the probability of Jessop being the father of the alleged victim's daughter was 99.999998 percent.

Jessop's trial is the first since Texas authorities raided the YFZ Ranch in April 2008, sweeping 439 children into foster case. The children have all been returned to parents or other relatives, but thousands of pages of documents and DNA tests taken in the raid have been used to build criminal cases against Jessop and 11 other sect men, including Jeffs.

The FLDS have historically been based around the Arizona-Utah line but purchased a ranch in Eldorado about six years ago, building numerous sprawling log homes and a towering limestone temple. The sect is a breakaway of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the sect.

This article was found at:



The Houston Chronicle - November 2, 2009

Photos show birthing center at sect's Texas ranch

By MICHELLE ROBERTS Associated Press Writer

ELDORADO, Texas — A birthing center on the bottom floor of a log cabin-style building at a polygamist group's West Texas ranch was set up like a medical office with one distict difference: A portrait of jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs hung over the delivery bed.

Jurors in the first criminal trial since Texas authorities raided the Yearning For Zion Ranch were shown 19 photos of the birthing center Monday as Texas Ranger Bart Bivens identified the items in the images.

Most of the photos were typical of a medical office where babies are delivered. The birthing center had a baby scale, diapers and bottles. It also had a bed that could be equipped with metal stirrups for examinations and deliveries.

A portrait of Jeffs, who is revered by the sect as a prophet but was also convicted as an accomplice to rape in Utah, could be seen on the wall over the bed.

The photos were introduced into evidence by prosecutors in the case against 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sexual assault of a child. The charge stems from his alleged marriage to an underage girl who gave birth in August 2005.

Defense attorney Mark Stevens said there was no credible evidence that the girl, now 21, was assaulted or gave birth at the ranch, which is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Bivens conceded under cross-examination that he did not know whether the birthing center was built before the alleged victim gave birth.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said in an interview later that the building was not constructed until sometime after 2005, though he did not know the exact date. Willie Jessop is a distant relative of the defendant, and their last name is common in the FLDS community.

"There's a lot more than one clinic out there," said Willie Jessop, who argued the photos were misleading. "They just throw everything and the kitchen sink in there."

Monday marked the second day jurors in this tiny community heard evidence in the case. Much of the day was spent with witnesses testifying about chain of custody on various pieces of evidence, but jurors did hear from a forensic analyst.

Analyst Amy Smuts testified her analysis found a 99.999998 percent probability that Raymond Jessop was the father of the alleged victim's daughter, now 4.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Nichols said during a hearing, with the jury waiting in a separate room, that the alleged victim was moved to the ranch and placed in a so-called "celestial marriage" with Raymond Jessop in November 2003, when she was 15. In previous court filings, prosecutors have said Jessop had nine wives.

He has been indicted on bigamy, but that charge involves a different woman and will be tried later.

Jeffs is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on charges related to underage marriages arranged there. Arguments on his Utah conviction were scheduled to go before the Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday. He also has been indicted in Texas on sexual assault of a child and bigamy charges.

In all, a dozen FLDS men have been indicted since Texas authorities raided the Yearning For Zion Ranch and took 439 children in state custody in April 2008. The custody decision was later reversed by an appellate court, but documents seized during the raid are being used by prosecutors in the trials.

The FLDS, a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven. Historically centered around the Arizona-Utah line, the sect bought a ranch near Eldorado and began building multifamily homes, a dairy and an enormous limestone temple about six years ago.

The Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the FLDS.

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment