20 Nov 2010

Third Texas polygamist jailed for sex assault, but FLDS spokesman says no contest plea was merely a legal tactic

The Houston Chronicle - Associated Press January 22, 2010

FLDS member going to prison for child sex assault

SAN ANGELO — A West Texas polygamist sect member was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading no contest to sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl Friday.

Michael Emack, 59, of Eldorado, entered the plea in district court to sexual assault of a child, said court administrator Irene Devore. Under Texas law, someone younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult.

Emack had been set to go to trial Monday. His attorney did not immediately return a Friday call from The Associated Press.

Emack's plea marked the third sexual assault of a child conviction for a resident of the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas attorney general's office.

Nine other suspects, including sect leader Warren Jeffs, are awaiting trial on charges including sexual assault of a child and bigamy, Strickland said.

The ranch is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The FLDS believes polygamy brings glory in heaven and is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Following an April 2008 raid at the ranch, Texas authorities removed more than 400 children and placed them in foster care, alleging they were being abused because of underage marriages. Two months later, state courts found the removals unjustified in all but a handful of cases and the children were returned to their parents.

A prosecutor read a statement in court Friday that in August 2004, Emack "spiritually" married a 16-year-old girl, who then got pregnant with his child that October when she still was 16. Prosecutors said Emack already was legally married in the state of Utah and had two other "spiritual marriages" as well. Strickland said a bigamy charge against Emack is pending.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said Emack made the plea so he could file an appeal. Jessop said Emack did not want to be tried by State District Judge Barbara Walther, who signed the order to remove the children in 2008. A message left for Walther was not immediately returned Friday.

"He didn't feel that he would get a fair trial so he made a no contest plea to move his case into what he believed would be a neutral court, the court of appeals," Jessop said. "We all very strongly believe the state of Texas acted in very bad faith," Jessop said. "What the state did was selective prosecution and they've used the format of a biased court to indict him."

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Standard-Times San Angelo, Texas January 22, 2010

FLDS: 7 years handed down in plea deal

Man accused of sex assault of child may appeal

By Matthew Waller | Standard-Times

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Michael Emack, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, pleaded no contest to the accusation of sexual assault of a child Friday, was found guilty and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Judge Barbara Walther of the 51st District Court asked Emack if he understood what the plea allowed him to do.

“I believe it helps me maintain my dignity,” Emack said.

He also said he understood that it allowed him to appeal. The court recognized that Emack reserves the right to appeal only in certain cases.

One case regards the lawfulness of search warrants that law enforcement personnel used to raid the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado in April 2008 on the basis of what later turned out to be a hoax call of a girl claiming she was abused inside the community.

“It doesn’t matter the number of children they took or mothers that got on the bus,” FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said about the raid after the hearing. “What Texas did was wrong.”

Emack also keeps the right to appeal based on the motion to quash the grand jury indictments alleging that the grand jury system in Schleicher County underrepresented Hispanics.

“You are giving up your right to a trial by jury,” Walther said. “Do you understand that?”

“Yes ma’am,” Emack said. The trial had been scheduled for Monday.

Emack said he also understood he was giving up his right to confront witnesses and his right to remain silent.

The state, led by prosecutor Eric Nicols, presented documents during the hearing meant to show that Emack, 59, sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl and fathered a child by her in October 2004, and that he had one legal wife and three spiritual wives including the minor.

Walther had Emack agree to a “waiver of stipulation of the evidence,” saying that the evidence was accurate and could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

With that evidence admitted, Walther found Emack guilty.

Emack’s defense attorney Randy Wilson, of Abilene, said he had mixed emotions about the outcome of the trial, saying that it was his client who wanted to plead no contest.

After the hearing and sentencing, Wilson spoke with a quivering lower lip.

“These are not bad people. They are wonderful people,” he said. “They’re good people, and I love them.”

Wilson hugged a slightly smiling Emack after the hearing, and the bailiff had Emack sign and fingerprint documents.

Emack has a pending bigamy case against him, and he said he intends to plead no contest to that as well. His attorneys and prosecutors have agreed to a seven-year sentence, which would be served concurrently with his sexual assault sentence. A judge would have to approve the plea agreement.

Wilson will reserve the right to appeal that bigamy case, stating that Emack intends to be a part of a joint motion of FLDS members who will challenge the constitutionality of Texas’ bigamy statutes.

Nichols said the state was pleased with the sentence.

“The state doesn’t enter into a plea of this nature unless it’s satisfied with the conditions,” he said.

Emack is the third of 10 FLDS members indicted, with trials scheduled to go on through December.

The first, Raymond Merril Jessop, received a 10-year sentence and an $8,000 fine after being convicted of a second-degree felony. Allan Eugene Keate, meanwhile, faced a first-degree felony for sexual assault of a child and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

Jessop and Emack were tried under second-degree felonies because their offense happened before an enhancement was added to the law. Jessop and Keate were tried in Eldorado. Emack’s case was moved to San Angelo after his lawyer agreed to a change of venue.

FLDS member Merril Leroy Jessop is scheduled to go to trial March 8 in Eldorado. He is charged with sexual assault, a first-degree felony.

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