31 May 2008

How Safe Are Vaccines?

Time Magazine - June 2, 2008 edition

Despite rules requiring U.S. students to be vaccinated, all but two states allow waivers for children whose parents object to vaccines on religious grounds

By Alice Park

Life, if you're a bacterium or virus, boils down to this: finding a pristine human home to provide for your every need, from food and nutrients to shelter against biological storms. As a microbial drifter, you can literally travel the world, hopping from host to host when the opportunity presents itself or when conditions at your temporary residence start heading south. There's no worry about taking along life's necessities either—viruses in particular are adept at traveling light; incapable of reproducing on their own, they think nothing of co-opting the reproductive machinery of their cellular sponsors to help them spawn generation after generation of freeloading progeny.

But ever since Edward Jenner, a country doctor in England, inoculated his son and a handful of other children against smallpox in 1796 by exposing them to cowpox pus, things have been tougher on humans' most unwelcome intruders. In the past century, vaccines against diphtheria, polio, pertussis, measles, mumps and rubella, not to mention the more recent additions of hepatitis B and chicken pox, have wired humans with powerful immune sentries to ward off uninvited invasions. And thanks to state laws requiring vaccinations for youngsters enrolling in kindergarten, the U.S. currently enjoys the highest immunization rate ever; 77% of children embarking on the first day of school are completely up to date on their recommended doses and most of the remaining children are missing just a few shots.

Yet simmering beneath these national numbers is a trend that's working in the microbes' favor—and against ours. Spurred by claims that vaccinations can be linked to autism, increasing numbers of parents are raising questions about whether vaccines, far from panaceas, are actually harmful to children. When the immune system of a baby or young child is just coming online, is it such a good idea to challenge it with antigens to so many bugs? Have the safety, efficacy and side effects of this flood of inoculations really been worked through? Just last month the U.S. government, which has always stood by the safety of vaccines, acknowledged that a 9-year-old Georgia girl with a preexisting cellular disease had been made worse by inoculations she had received as an infant, which "significantly aggravated" the condition, resulting in a brain disorder with autism-like symptoms.

Though the government stressed that the case was an exceptional one, it provided exactly the smoking gun that vaccine detractors had been looking for and vaccine proponents had been dreading. More and more, all this wrangling over risks and benefits is leading confused parents simply to opt out of vaccines altogether. Despite the rules requiring students to be vaccinated, doctors can issue waivers to kids whose compromised immune system might make vaccines risky. Additionally, all but two states allow waivers for children whose parents object to vaccines on religious grounds; 20 allow parents to opt out on philosophical grounds. Currently, nearly one-half of 1% of kids enrolled in school are unvaccinated under a medical waiver; 2% to 3% have a nonmedical one, and the numbers appear to be rising.

Parents of these unimmunized kids know that as long as nearly all the other children get their shots, there should not be enough pathogen around to sicken anyone. But that's a fragile shield. Infectious-disease bugs continue to travel the globe, always ready to launch the next big public-health threat. Pockets of intentionally unvaccinated children provide a perfect place for a disease to squat, leading to outbreaks that spread to other unprotected kids, infants and the elderly. Ongoing measles outbreaks in four states are centered in such communities; one originated with an unimmunized boy from San Diego who contracted the virus while traveling in Europe—where the bug was thriving among intentionally unimmunized people in Switzerland. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says, "We are seeing more outbreaks that look different, concentrated among intentionally unimmunized people. I hope they are not the beginning of a worse trend."

If they are, it's possible that once rampant diseases such as measles, mumps and whooping cough will storm back, even in developed nations with robust public-health programs. That is forcing both policymakers and parents to wrestle with a dilemma that goes to the heart of democracy: whether the common welfare should trump the individual's right to choose. Parents torn between what's good for the world and what's good for their child will—no surprise—choose the child. But even then, they wonder if that means to opt for the vaccines and face the potential perils of errant chemistry or to decline the vaccines and face the dangers of the bugs. There is, as yet, no simple solution, but answers are emerging.

The Autism Riddle

More than any other issue, the question of autism has fueled the battle over vaccines. Since the 1980s, the number of vaccinations children receive has doubled, and in that same time, autism diagnoses have soared threefold. In 1998, British gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Wakefield of London's Royal Free Hospital published a paper in the journal the Lancet in which he reported on a dozen young patients who were suffering from both autism-like developmental disorders and intestinal symptoms that included inflammation, pain and bloating. Eight of the kids began exhibiting signs of autism days after receiving the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella. While Wakefield and his co-authors were careful not to suggest that these cases proved a connection between vaccines and autism, they did imply, provocatively, that exposure to the measles virus could be a contributing factor to the children's autism. Wakefield later went on to speculate that virus from the vaccine led to inflammation in the gut that affected the brain development of the children.

Like the initial tremor that triggers a massive earthquake, Wakefield's theories resonated throughout the autism community, where vaccines had been regarded with suspicion for another reason as well. Ever since the 1930s, a mercury compound known as thimerosal had been included in some vaccines—though not the measles inoculation—as a preservative to keep them free of fungi and bacteria. Thimerosal can do serious damage to brain tissue, especially in children, whose brains are still developing. It was perhaps inevitable that parents would make a connection between the chemical and autism, since symptoms typically appear around age 2, by which time babies have already received a fair number of vaccines. That link could be merely temporal, of course; babies also get their first teeth after they get their first vaccines, but that doesn't mean one causes the other.

In 2001, however, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration study revealed that a 6-month-old receiving the recommended complement of childhood vaccinations was exposed to total levels of vaccine-based mercury twice as high as the amount the epa considers safe in a diet that includes fish. By the end of that year, thimerosal-free formulations of the five inoculations that included it—hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and some versions of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)—had replaced the older versions. The result was a drop in mercury exposure in fully immunized 6-month-old babies from 187.5 micrograms to just trace amounts still found in some flu vaccines. Yet there's been no effect on autism rates. In the seven years since the cleaned-up vaccines were introduced, new cases of autism continue to climb, reaching a rate of 1 in every 150 8-year-olds today. That trend suggests that other factors, including heightened awareness of the condition and possible genetic anomalies or environmental exposures, are behind the climbing rates. What's more, in the decade since Wakefield's watershed paper, 10 of its 13 authors have retracted their hypothesis, admitting that the study did not produce solid enough evidence to support a connection between the measles virus in the MMR vaccine and autism.

But the damage had been done. Parents, already uneasy about immunizations, now felt betrayed by government health authorities and a vaccine industry that simply kept the shots coming, with today's kids receiving up to 28 injections for 14 diseases, more than double the number of shots required in the 1970s. "There is no doubt in my mind that my child's first cause of autism is the mercury in vaccines," says Ginny DeLeo, a New York science teacher whose son Evan, born in 1993, was developing normally until he was a year old. The day the boy received his fourth dose of Hib vaccine, DeLeo had to rush him to the hospital with tremors and a 104 deg F (40 deg C) fever, which later led to seizures. Evan recovered, and several months later he received the first of two MMR shots. Within months, he stopped talking, and autism was diagnosed.

So, is there a link? In 2003, a 15-person committee impaneled by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health analyzed the available studies on thimerosal and its possible connections to autism and concluded that there was no scientific evidence to support the link. In a further show of confidence, the committee noted that it did "not consider a significant investment in studies of the theoretical vaccine-autism connection to be useful." Instead, the panel recommended that studies focus on less explored genetic or biological explanations for the disease.

There is also little evidence to support the claim made by antivaccine activists that the battery of shots kids receive can damage the immune system rather than strengthen it. Experts stress that it's not the number of inoculations that matters but the number of immune-stimulating antigens—or proteins—in them. Thanks to a better understanding of which viral or bacterial proteins are best at activating the immune system, that number has plummeted. The original smallpox injection alone packed 200 different immune-alerting antigens in a single shot. Today there are only 150 antigens in all 15 or so shots babies get before they are 6 months old. "The notion that too many vaccines can overwhelm the immune system is just not based on good science," says Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.

My Child, My Choice

If the push-back against vaccines were only about the science, doctors might have an easier time making their case. But there's more going on than that. Parents object to the mandatory nature of the shots—and the fact that their child's access to education hinges on compliance with the immunization regulations. There's also the simple reality that the illnesses kids are being inoculated against are rarely seen anymore. When diseases like polio ran free in the early 1900s, the clamor was less about why we needed vaccines than about why there weren't more of them. Once you've seen your neighbor's toddler become paralyzed, you're a lot more likely to worry that the same thing will happen to yours. "The fact is," says Offit, "young mothers today never grew up with the disease."

What worries him and others is that young mothers of tomorrow will—and that could be disastrous. CDC officials estimate that fully vaccinating all U.S. children born in a given year from birth to adolescence saves 33,000 lives, prevents 14 million infections and saves $10 billion in medical costs. Part of the reason is that the vaccinations protect not only the kids who receive the shots but also those who can't receive them—such as newborns and cancer patients with suppressed immune systems. These vulnerable folks depend on riding the so-called herd-immunity effect. The higher the immunization rate in any population, the less likely that a pathogen will penetrate the group and find a susceptible person inside. As immunization rates drop, that protection grows thinner. That's what happened in the current measles outbreaks in the western U.S., and that's what happened in Nigeria in 2001, when religious and political leaders convinced parents that polio vaccines were dangerous and their kids should not receive them. Over the next six years, not only did Nigerian infection rates increase 30-fold, but the disease also broke free and ranged out to 10 other countries, many of which had previously been polio-free.

As long ago as 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the power of the herd and ruled that states have the right to mandate immunizations, not for the individual's health but for the community's. That principle, say vaccine proponents, should still apply. "The decision to vaccinate is a decision for your child," says Dr. Jane Seward, deputy director of viral diseases at the CDC, "but also a decision for society."

Some parents have taken to cherry-picking vaccines, leaving out only the shots they believe their children don't need—such as those for chicken pox and hepatitis B—and keeping up with what they see as the life-or-death ones. But that can be a high-stakes game, as Kelly Lacek, a Pennsylvania mother of three, learned. She stopped vaccinating her 2-month-old son Matthew when her chiropractor raised questions about mercury in the shots. Three years later, she came home to find the little boy feverish and gasping for breath. Emergency-room doctors couldn't find the cause—until one experienced physician finally asked the right question. "He took one look at Matthew and asked me if he was fully vaccinated," says Lacek. "I said no." It turned out Matthew had been infected with Hib, bacteria that causes meningitis, swelling of the airway and, in severe cases, swelling of the brain tissue. After relying on a breathing tube for several days, Matthew recovered without any neurological effects, and a grateful Lacek immediately got him and his siblings up to date on their immunizations. "I am angry that people are promoting not getting vaccinated and messing with people's lives like that," she now says.

Health officials are angry too. Encouraged in part by the government report that seemed to clear vaccines of the autism charges, they are beginning to take a harder line with parents who submit vaccine exemptions for nonmedical reasons. In Maryland, where unvaccinated students are not permitted in school, officials last November threatened to take parents to court for truancy violations if their kids did not get all their shots so that they could be cleared for class. On Long Island, N.Y., vaccine objectors are called in for what some parents call "sincerity" interviews with school officials and school-board attorneys to determine how genuinely the vaccines conflict with religious convictions.

Even in cities where such interviews are not required, the tensions are palpable. Says Sue Collins, a New Jersey mother who has not had either of her two sons vaccinated: "Things are getting so nasty. People are calling us bad parents, saying it's child abuse if we don't vaccinate our children." In an effort to avoid potential conflicts, some parents are bypassing the school system altogether, preferring to homeschool their kids so they won't be forced to vaccinate them.

Common Ground

That still leaves the broader community at risk. So, is there room between public health and personal choice? Science may eventually provide a way out. Most people agree that there may be kids with genetic predispositions or other underlying conditions that make them susceptible to being harmed by vaccines. The Georgia girl in the recent vaccine case is the first such documented child, but her story suggests there could be others. Though CDC director Julie Gerberding was quick to insist that the case should not be considered an admission that vaccines can cause autism, some parents will surely take it as just that. "In rare instances, there could be some gene-vs.-exposure interaction that in theory could lead from the vaccine to autism," says Dr. Tracy Lieu, director of the center for child-health-care studies at Harvard Medical School. "The future of vaccine-safety research lies in trying to answer questions of genomic contributions to responses to vaccines." Screening for genetic profiles that are most commonly associated with immune disorders, for example, would be a good place to start.

Whether tests like these, combined with detailed family histories, will make a difference in the rates of developmental disorders like autism isn't yet clear. But such a strategy could reveal new avenues of research and lead to safer inoculations overall. Parents concerned about vaccine safety would then have stronger answers to their questions about how their child might be affected by the shots. Vaccines may be a medical marvel, but they are only one salvo in our fight against disease-causing bugs. It's worth remembering that viruses and bacteria have had millions of years to perfect their host-finding skills; our abilities to rebuff them are only two centuries old. And in that journey, both parents and public-health officials want the same thing—to protect future generations from harm.

An Old Scourge Returns.

Measles cases are on the rise as growing numbers of families forgo immunization

In the first four months of this year, 64 confirmed cases of measles were reported in the U.S., scattered across 11 hot spots. This is the most by this date for any year since 2001; 54 cases had links to other countries, and only one of the 64 patients had been vaccinated. The outbreaks in Arizona and San Diego can be traced to travel to and from Switzerland, where many people choose not to be vaccinated.

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Texas judge refuses to sign order to return FLDS children

Deseret News - May 31, 2008

by Ben Winslow & Nancy Perkins

SAN ANGELO, Texas — The devil is in the details.

The judge who ordered hundreds of children removed from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch abruptly walked off the bench late Friday, throwing the nation's largest-ever custody case into chaos again.

Judge Barbara Walther refused to sign an order to return the children when lawyers for a group of FLDS mothers challenged the changes she had made to a negotiated deal to return some of the children home as early as today.

The move left members of the FLDS Church frustrated.

"There's no relief. There's no way of knowing when relief will be here. There's no way to get cooperation out of the legal system to fix what they did on April 3," FLDS member Willie Jessop said outside the courthouse.

Lawyers for some of the families are expected to go to Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals on Monday. The court had said that if Walther would not sign an order to return the children, it would do it for her.

"It essentially incarcerates our children and the mothers of our children for at least another 48 hours and probably longer than that, given the circumstances," said Laura Shockley, an attorney representing children and a group of young women in a dispute with Texas over their ages.

Both Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court ordered the children to be returned, ruling that child welfare authorities did not have proof that there was an immediate danger to justify removing more than 400 children from the FLDS property last month. The courts also ruled that Walther's court overstepped its authority in placing all of the children in foster care facilities scattered across the Lone Star State.

The Texas Supreme Court did allow Walther to place restrictions on the families while Child Protective Services continues an abuse investigation.

Details of the deal

A deal had already been tentatively reached between Texas child welfare authorities and lawyers for the FLDS families when the hearing began Friday afternoon.

The deal would have required that FLDS parents take parenting classes, cooperate in ongoing investigations, allow CPS caseworkers to make unannounced home visits from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and notify welfare workers who lives in the ranch homes. The tentative agreement included an injunction prohibiting the families from leaving Texas before Aug. 31.

But Walther had concerns about the injunction. She also sought to get more specific about requirements for the parents.

"The court believes it's important to specifically set out what the department can and can't do in its investigation," the judge said.

After a recess, she came back with her own proposed order. It required specific addresses for everyone in a household, unlimited access to the YFZ Ranch for caseworkers, the ability to remove children for interviews and order psychological and medical tests and blocked anyone in the custody case from leaving Texas while the investigation is ongoing.

Her proposed order said that anyone from the ranch, seeking to travel within Texas, must give 48 hours notice to CPS before traveling more than 60 miles.

Nancy DeLong, an attorney for several mothers, had numerous objections.

"This is a global order for everyone," she said. "The language is overbroad. We need individual hearings before any changes are made. There is no basis for any of these orders. It is not necessary. The court of appeals found there is no evidence to take these children."

So many attorneys objected at one point, they drowned each other out.

"I'll make some modifications," Walther said, taking another recess.

A proposed final order was circulated throughout the courtroom, but lawyers for the FLDS mothers still had objections, saying there were concerns specific to their individual clients.

"I understand y'all did not agree to this, but this is what I am going to sign and y'all can seek appropriate remedies," Walther said.

Lawyers again objected, saying that the language was not part of the deal they had made with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

"The court does not have the power, with all due respect, to enter any other order (other than vacating the original order)," Julie Balovich of the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Society argued over the telephone.

She said there was no evidence justifying the additional restrictions the judge was proposing.

Walther said that if they wanted the original order signed, they would have to get signatures from all of the mothers and the attorneys involved before she'd sign it. That is something the families' lawyers said would be impractical to do over the weekend.

Walther said she believed the Supreme Court's decision gave her the authority to impose whatever conditions she felt were necessary.

"The Supreme Court does say this court can place restrictions on the parents. I do not read that to say this court is required to have another hearing to do that," she said. "You may interpret it however you choose."

With that, the judge walked off the bench, saying she would await any submitted orders. Lawyers in the courtroom and over the phone were stunned.

"What did she say?" one attorney asked.

"Do we have another hearing?"

"What did she order?"

Kids' welfare first

Lawyers for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services left the courthouse without saying much.

"I'm going to do what the court directed," agency attorney Gary Banks said.

In a statement, the department only said that "DFPS worked with the attorneys for the children and parents' attorneys on a plan for reunifications that was presented to the court.

"Judge Walther asked that we continue to finalize this plan together to ensure the prompt and orderly return of the children."

The Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Society, which represents mothers who successfully challenged the original decision, did not say if they will go to the appellate courts to get the order signed.

"We are determined to do what is in the best interest of these families and that means working to reunite children with their parents as quickly as possible," spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an e-mail to the Deseret News. "We are going to continue to work with the courts and CPS to get that done."

Andrea Sloan, a lawyer representing a group of young women considered by the state to be minors, said it came down to a competing balance of how invasive Texas CPS caseworkers can be when the children go home and the FLDS right to freedom in their lives.

"At the end of the day these children need to be home with their parents," Sloan said. "Two courts above this court have said that."

Asked if she had confidence in Walther, Sloan replied that she had confidence in the Texas court system.

"One way or another these children will be returned to their homes," she said.

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Blind student killed by religious teacher for not learning Koran

Agence France-Presse - May 30, 2008

Multan, Pakistan

A BLIND seven-year-old student at an Islamic school in eastern Pakistan has died after his teacher punished him for not learning the Koran, police said today.

Muhammad Atif was hung upside down from a ceiling fan and severely beaten by his teacher, Qari Ziauddin, at the seminary or madrassa in Vihari, near Lahore on Thursday, they said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had ordered in inquiry into the death, an official statement said.

"The Prime Minister has expressed his deep sorrow and concern over the tragic death of Muhammad Atif, who reportedly died as a result of corporal punishment by his teacher,'' the statement said.

Police said the teacher had been arrested on charges of torturing and murdering the boy.

"Qari Ziauddin, who teaches Koran to boys in Qari Latif Islamic school, hanged Atif upside down with a ceiling fan in the school after beating him with sticks, which caused his death,'' local police official Akram Niazi said.

The teacher also failed to take the boy to hospital after he fell ill and his condition deteriorated, he said.

Police said a postmortem examination report also confirmed physical torture as the cause of death.

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Search warrant seeking Jeffs' DNA accuses him of more child bride marriages

Deseret News - May 30, 2008

by Ben Winslow

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs is accused of squiring more child brides in a search warrant affidavit seeking his DNA.

"Warren Jeffs sexually assaulted a 12-year-old child ... on or about July 27, 2006, in Schleicher County, Texas," Kingman, Ariz., Police Officer Dennis Gilbert wrote in the warrant.

A copy of the warrant was obtained by the Deseret News on Friday. The warrant's affidavit was co-signed by David L. Boatright, the chief of the criminal investigations division for the Texas Attorney General's Office.

A DNA sample was collected from Jeffs at the Mohave County Jail in Kingman, Ariz., on Thursday. It included a pair of cheek swabs and digital photos of the process.

DNA samples were collected from 603 adults and children involved on the raid at the YFZ Ranch to determine parentage, but the Texas Attorney General's office said Jeffs' sample is not related to the custody case.

"That was related to the criminal procedures," Attorney General spokeswoman Janece Rolfe said of Jeffs' sample. "That's a separate process."

A criminal investigation into abuses at the FLDS property has been quietly progressing at the same time the CPS case has imploded.

The warrant affidavit said that investigators seized marriage records and photographs during the raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch last month.

"Upon review of the marital records, also referred to as Bishop's Records, by investigators, said records reveal that Warren Jeffs married (name removed) at age 14, on or about January 18, 2004 in Utah," Gilbert wrote.

Investigators said the records and photos also provided evidence that in October, another girl gave birth to a child believed to have been fathered by Jeffs. At the time of conception, police said the girl was approximately 15-years-old.

"The two are depicted at the birth of their child," Gilbert wrote. "In said photograph (name removed) is seen with Jeffs holding a new born child wrapped in a blanket."

Law enforcement claims that Bishop's Records show a July 2006 marriage between a 12-year-old girl and Jeffs. Photos matching the marriage date were put into courtroom evidence in a custody battle here in Texas involving a baby born to a couple who lived at the YFZ Ranch.

The photos showed Jeffs cradling the girl and kissing her in a manner that Texas child welfare authorities described as "how a husband kisses a wife."

"Affiant has learned from investigators that Warren Jeffs 'married' two other children at the YFZ Ranch in addition to his purported marriage to (named removed) and (name removed)," Gilbert wrote.

Records seized from the YFZ Ranch also indicate Jeffs married a 14-year-old while at the FLDS property, the affidavit said. A marriage in April 2005 suggests another girl was 12.

"Based on all of the above, affiant believes that Warren Jeffs has committed the felony offense of sexual assault of a child," Gilbert wrote, adding that Texas authorities were seeking DNA samples to help determine whether Jeffs fathered any children born to underage mothers.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS, said he wanted to see what particular evidence law enforcement had of criminal activity.

"The question is, do they have any evidence of sexual activity with minors and Warren Jeffs?" he said. "I don't know if they do or not. I don't see how DNA, by itself, proves that one way or another."

Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is facing charges of sexual misconduct and incest as an accomplice in Arizona, accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages.

Jeffs is also facing a federal grand jury indictment in Salt Lake City, charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution — stemming from his time on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

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Deal to Return Children to Sect Breaks Down

New York Times - May 31, 2008


SAN ANGELO, Tex. — Negotiations for the state’s release of more than 460 children who were removed from a polygamist sect in April broke down Friday in a scene of chaos and bitterness in a courtroom in this West Texas city.
Jud Burkett/Associated Press

The polygamist leader Warren S. Jeffs faces new accusations of under-age marriage.

Lawyers for the families said the judge overseeing the release lacked authority to impose restrictions on it, and the judge, in disagreement, ended the proceedings and walked out of the courtroom.

The lawyers jumped to their feet, uncertain whether the proceedings had actually been adjourned, and some later vowed to bypass the judge, Barbara Walther of State District Court, and carry this new turn in the case directly to an appeals court.

“This is crazy,” said Gary Peak, a lawyer who represents two boys from the sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mr. Peak said the next step would be for families’ lawyers to each file individual motions over the weekend to vacate the orders, issued by Judge Walther last month, that authorized state custody of the children.

“No one knows what’s going to happen,” Mr. Peak said.

Reuniting of the children with their parents early next week had been expected after the Texas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state’s seizure had been overly broad and was not supported by evidence of sexual abuse.

In fact, an agreement to release the children Monday had seemed within reach earlier Friday. But the hearing before Judge Walther, which was convened precisely to arrange for the release, snagged over the ground rules.

The hearing was partly overshadowed, meanwhile, by a new development in the continuing criminal investigation of the sect.

Investigators said family marriage records seized in the April raid of the group’s compound, the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, Tex., suggested that the sect’s leader, Warren S. Jeffs, had “spiritually” wed at least four under-age girls, two of them 14 at the time, the other two 12.

Mr. Jeffs, 52, is serving 10 years to life as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl in Utah to marry and have sex with an older man against her will.

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Texas attorney general’s office, said a warrant to obtain DNA samples from Mr. Jeffs was signed on Thursday by a judge in Arizona, where Mr. Jeffs is in jail awaiting trial on other charges related to under-age marriage. The children taken in the raid in Texas have already given DNA samples.

The day’s developments underlined a tangle of questions that remain unresolved in one of the largest child custody cases in American history.

State child protection officials, in justifying the seizure of the children from the group, said a pervasive culture of abusive sex with under-age youths had endangered girls and boys alike — girls groomed as victims, boys as predators. But the State Supreme Court, in upholding the ruling of a lower appeals court, said the claim was too sweeping. The state could not prove that every child was endangered, the Supreme Court said in a divided opinion, adding that this was the prerequisite needed to take all the children as a group.

One question remaining in the criminal case is whether the state’s justification for the raid may yet be at least partly substantiated after the children’s return, which, lawyers and state officials have said, is inevitable given the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Mr. Strickland, the spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, emphasized that the criminal inquiry was proceeding on its own track.

“The criminal investigation is separate from the custody case,” he said. “Our office is handling the criminal side of things, and Child Protective Services is handling the other portions of this case.”

The attorney general was named special prosecutor in the criminal case last month by Judge Walther, who is overseeing the custody case as well. Mr. Strickland and a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, Lisa Block, both said evidence that was still being collected would dictate what charges, if any, were brought against members of the group.

“It is a multifaceted investigation, involving a lot of evidence,” Ms. Block said.

At the hearing on Friday to work out the release agreement, Judge Walther said she wanted the children, who are spread out all across Texas, mostly in group foster care, to be returned in an orderly fashion. She specifically rejected an appeal by the parents to allow the release this weekend.

“I don’t want to issue an order that would create more chaos than has already happened for these children,” Judge Walther said. “It’s going to take a little bit of logistics to organize.”

Still, plans for the release had seemed to be moving toward resolution in her courtroom. Then came the snag over conditions.

Under one provision, the parents would have had to stay in close touch with state child protection officials and could have been subjected to visits by inspectors and state caseworkers at any time.

Further, in the absence of results from recently administered DNA tests, families were asked to sign affidavits agreeing to take from the state only their own children. They would also have had to take parenting classes.

Finally, after several hours of discussion, one group of lawyers representing families said that the court lacked authority to impose any restrictions and that Judge Walther’s only choice was simply to vacate her April order granting custody to the state.

Judge Walther then read parts of the Supreme Court’s decision that she said did give her authority to place restrictions to provide for the safety of the children. The impasse could not be resolved, and she left the courtroom shortly afterward.

Members of the sect, which split off decades ago from the main branch of Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after the Mormons disavowed polygamy, have historically been based in Utah and Arizona, and arrived in Texas only five years ago, when the Yearning for Zion ranch was founded.

Now there are questions about what will be left of the self-contained ranch community even if the events surrounding the state’s intervention are resolved.

One member of the church, Willie Jessop, a contractor and rancher in Utah who came to Texas after his sister’s children were taken into custody, said hope and anxiety were both running high among the families in about equal measure.

“The parents have been on this roller coaster ride now for so long,” Mr. Jessop said. “They’ve been told so many times that they could get their children back: if they go to the shelters they could get their children back, if they submit DNA they could get their children back.

“There have been so many conditions already, and still they do not have their children back.”

Gretel C. Kovach reported from San Angelo, and Kirk Johnson from Denver.

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30 May 2008

DNA samples taken to determine whether Jeffs had sex with four girls, two of whom were 12, court filings revealed today

American-Statesman - May 30, 2008

Sect leader suspected of marrying underage Eldorado ranch girls

by Mike Ward | American-Statesman Staff

DNA samples have been taken from convicted polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs as part of a widening Texas investigation into whether he married and had sex with at least four underage girls from a sect ranch near Eldorado, including two who were 12, court filings revealed today.

A search warrant affidavit filed in Mohave County, Ariz., shows that Jeffs' DNA was collected on two mouth swabs at a Kingman, Ariz., jail where he remains after being convicted on sexual assault charges involving other young girls who were part of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The court filings provide new details of the case, for the first time naming Jeffs, 52, as a suspect on Texas charges. The Texas case began with an April raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Officials seized more than 400 children during the raid, after a caller reported abuse allegations.

The affidavit also reveals that Jeffs, the sect's so-called prophet, is under investigation in the Texas case in connection with sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault, bigamy and prohibited sexual assault. All are felonies.

In one case, according to the affidavit, sect records that Texas investigators seized show that Jeffs "married" a 14-year-old girl in January 2004 in Utah.

In October 2005, when she was 16, the girl "gave birth to a child that is believed to be fathered by Warren Jeffs," according to the affidavit, which says wedding photos have been seized as evidence. At some point, the girl moved to the Eldorado ranch.

The affidavit also claims that Jeffs married and sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl at the ranch on or about July 27, 2006.

The affidavit says that one photograph seized as evidence in the raid depicts Jeffs and the girl standing arm-in-arm and that a second photo shows the two "embraced in a kiss."

Jeffs married another 12-year-old girl at the ranch on April 16, 2005, and a 14-year-old girl on July 22, 2004, according to the court filing.

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Secrets of Bountiful

The Whistler Question - May 30, 2008


By Jan DeGrass/Arts and Enterainment Writer

There are two reasons why the latest book from Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham, The Secret Lives of Saints, is a riveting read. One is the sheer power of the story itself: an investigation into the complex machinations of the sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) who live in Bountiful, near Creston, B.C. The book’s sub title is Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect, and the stories cover similar territory to newspaper articles from the award-winning journalist.

Bramham’s stand is clear. Though her account employs a journalist’s training — it is detailed and factual and she has checked her sources and done extensive research into the roots of polygamy — her repugnance lies close to the surface.

Bramham recounts tales of child brides of 14 or 15 “assigned” to husbands by the self-proclaimed prophets of the sect. She describes stories of rape and abuse from those who have left the group, and of the despair of boys forced to work on construction projects owned by the sect’s leaders at slave wages or banished from their community because they are rivals for the gene pool of young women.

Families are torn apart with wives and children “reassigned” to other men and homes taken away because husbands did not comply with the revelations of the prophets. It seems no one wins: women, children, young men or disobedient husbands — except for the prophets themselves, which in Bountiful means Winston Blackmore with his dozens of child-bearing wives or Warren Jeffs, the accused in a U.S. rape trial, both of whom own companies that have made them wealthy and powerful.

Bramham will visit Sechelt to speak about her book on Saturday at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre. And that brings me to the second profoundly interesting reason for reading this disturbing book. Many of the audience will already be knowledgeable on this subject, thanks, in part, to one local activist author, Jancis Andrews. As described in Secret Lives, in 2002 Andrews read about how fundamentalist Mormons were fleeing the States to a safe haven in Canada in the belief they would not be prosecuted for polygamy. That day she fired off an email to the federal justice minister with copies to the prime minister and her MP. She is quoted as saying, “With all the trust of a babe in arms, I waited for a reply, naively confident that the government would correct this wrong immediately.”

When nothing happened, the fiery campaigner took the issue to a meeting of the Coast’s chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, armed with what she had learned about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other policies to eliminate discrimination against women. Her speech turned into a letter writing and email campaign from many women of Sechelt who became instrumental in calling public attention to the issue.

Why is nothing done about the abuse of young teens and children? Political apathy, suggests Bramham, relating the numerous attempts to bring the issues of polygamy, rape and abuse to the attention of lawmakers and politicians in Canada and the U.S. Or, perhaps it is a choice by the good people of Creston not to rock the boat even though the sight of young teens pushing baby carriages has become commonplace. After all, the Bountiful sect purchases locally and boosts the economy.

Mostly, it is a squeamishness about interfering with the civil rights of any group practising their religion in a free country.

No one wants to take on the Mormons, it seems, even though it is made abundantly clear in the book that this fundamentalist sect bears no relation to the mainstream Mormon Church which has, in fact, excommunicated the FLDS.

Bramham will read from her book and answer questions at 7 p.m. Admission is free, sponsored by a local group, the Quintessential Writers.

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Jeffs's wedding pictures disgust

Vancouver Sun - May 30, 2008

by Daphne Bramham

The idea of child brides is disgusting, but seeing photographs of 12- and 14-year-olds with their adult husbands is stomach-churning.

That's why Elissa Wall passed out photos of her 14-year-old self after testifying against Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, last September.

If not for her, Jeffs might still be marrying young girls. Instead, he is serving two consecutive terms of five years to life and preparing to go to trial on similar charges in Arizona later this year or early next year when, once again, Wall will be the key witness.

Yet even while he sits in jail, Jeffs's sermons form the basis of the religious instruction at Bountiful elementary-secondary school, which is both accredited and funded by the B.C. government.

"I clung to being anonymous [at the beginning of the trial]. It made me feel protected," Wall said this week in an interview. "But the press was brutal. Some of the reporters said I was an unbelievable witness because I came across as too strong.

"But I wasn't always a 20-year-old who was able to stand up for myself. I was once a child. People needed to understand that it had taken a long time, healing, and a lot of struggles to get there. I wanted people to remember that girl of 14 who was shackled and put into a terrible situation by people who were supposed to be protecting her."

This is why her new book, Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs (published by HarperCollins Canada), contains pages of photos of her as a child.

And it may be part of the reason why Texas child protection officials last week filed wedding photos of Jeffs with two of his more than 80 wives as evidence in court that the FLDS is a pervasive, systemic culture of abuse. One of the girls has been officially identified as being only 12.

Given what we've seen of the FLDS women since Texas officials raided the Yearning for Zion ranch and took more than 400 young women and children into protective custody, it's hard to believe that articulate, resolute Elissa Wall was once part of the repressive, reclusive sect (a group not affiliated with the mainstream Mormon church).

"I think a big factor in being able to hold on to my sense of self [growing up] was that my dad was educated and we had some outside perspective. There are a lot of women out there [in the FLDS communities] like me. But their spirits have been broken."

Wall's father, an engineer, converted to fundamentalism after concluding that the mainstream church was wrong to have denounced polygamy. Both he and Elissa's mother remain in the FLDS. Elissa saw her father several times during the Jeffs trial, but she hasn't seen her mother since spring 2005, even though Sharon Wall was listed as a possible defence witness for Jeffs.

"It's a completely different world [the FLDS]," Wall says. "Women and children pay the price for men's actions. They are very controlled and only know their own little world. Even though I have compassion for the women and children in Texas, I know why the authorities went in.

"I was married at 14. I know it could be happening there, and whenever there is any abuse happening, it must be sought out and stopped."

Wall wonders why it's the women, not the FLDS patriarchs, who are put before the cameras to defend Jeffs's church.

"The men should be accountable. But they are nowhere to be seen. Instead, women and children are fitted with the responsibility to lie for the men."

Lying for the church isn't uncommon. That's what Wall says Allan Steed -- her cousin, spiritual husband and rapist -- did at Jeffs's trial. It's part of the reason she no longer sees Steed as a victim.

"Warren [Jeffs] told him he had to marry me. But Allan knew I was still a child. I told him no and he still decided to sexually abuse me. So, no, he is not a victim. He is a perpetrator. He's a victim of Warren's power."

Aside from her initial fears about confronting Jeffs, the most difficult part of the trial for Wall was the suggestion that she wasn't telling the truth and was testifying only for financial gain.

"I have lost and sacrificed way too much for that," she says. She lost contact with most of her family, and she fears that her two youngest sisters may have been victims of forced early marriages.

Before going to the police, she filed a civil suit against Jeffs and the FLDS. While she was in Utah's victim protection program, she got money from the state, as well as private donors.

Jeffs has never responded to the civil lawsuit. But the United Effort Plan trust -- the FLDS's financial arm -- is paying $2 million to the MJ Fund that Wall established to help girls and women leaving the FLDS. (MJ was the pseudonym under which the civil suit was filed.)

The money will be used for food, housing, transportation, education and other necessities for girls and women leaving the FLDS.

It is also giving the MJ Fund title to four acres of land and eight housing lots in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Despite her book contract, Wall is not rich. She works as a waitress as she and her new husband struggle to make a decent life for their two children. She dreams of some day completing high school and going to university, but for now that's on the back burner.

"First and foremost, I want to be a wonderful mother. But I want to change the course of events for women, especially those in the FLDS. I want to help women remember that they are equals and they deserve to be respected."

It's hard to believe that articulate, self-assured Elissa Wall was ever a trembling 14-year-old bride.

But she was. So were others. And, in both the United States and Canada, many others remain at risk.

That's why her story -- and the photographs -- are so important.

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Creepy photos of jailed FLDS sect leader released in custody battle

Is sect's West Texas ranch one household?

American-Statesman - May 30, 2008

State agency says yes, but residents and court disagree.

by Corrie MacLaggan | American-Statesman staff
A rocky hill inside the Yearning for Zion Ranch offers an expansive view of the 1,691-acre property: straight ahead, the white limestone temple with its teethlike rooflines; to the left, the fruit orchards; and all around, the sturdy, log-cabin-style homes. Dusty roads connect it all.

Is the ranch — owned by members of a breakaway Mormon sect that practices polygamy — a single household?

During a recent visit by media to the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado, the general assembly room in the schoolhouse was all but empty, with a portrait of sect leader Warren Jeffs prominent on the wall.

Child Protective Services officials contend that it is, and they say that justified their decision in April to seize all of the more than 400 children who lived there when their investigation showed a pattern of child abuse.

But members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and their lawyers say that the ranch on County Road 300 is more like a gated neighborhood.

The legal status of the West Texas ranch — household or religious commune — figured prominently in legal briefs filed by the state and by attorneys for some of the mothers whose children were removed.

The Texas Supreme Court did not address the issue in its ruling Thursday, letting a previous appeals court opinion stand. That court found insufficient evidence that the ranch is a single household.

Sect member Willie Jessop cringes when he hears people call the place a compound. He prefers to call it a "West Texas community."

"As bad as everybody thinks we live in the same house, we don't," Jessop said while showing members of the media around the ranch last week.

CPS officials say that even though it has multiple homes, the property is one residence. They say that when investigators discovered some children were victims of sexual abuse — specifically, men "commanding sex" with young girls and women condoning the abuse — they decided all the children at the ranch were in danger, and state District Judge Barbara Walther agreed.

"They live together in a communal situation," agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said. "It's essentially the same address, the same physical location, just different buildings. It's a single community living under a similar belief system."

The entire Yearning for Zion Ranch pays taxes as a single entity, according to the Schleicher County Appraisal District.

Lawyer D'Ann Johnson, who represents three mothers, called the notion of the ranch as a single residence "a tortuous interpretation."

When Johnson, Austin branch manager of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, visited the ranch recently to meet with client Sara Steed, a mother of six, she saw dwellings divided into separate apartments with separate entrances, she said.

Each apartment — some buildings have several, depending on the size of the families — has its own kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms, Johnson said.

"They have their own keys," she said. "They don't walk into other people's apartments."

Inside, Johnson said, she saw family photo albums, cribs and bunk beds.

If the Yearning for Zion Ranch is a single household, it's a very large one that includes a medical clinic and a schoolhouse as well as homes.

Residents of the ranch craft their own buildings and furniture, Jessop said. They cut limestone from the property to build the temple; milk comes from cows at their on-site dairy, and they make their own cheese.

At a community store, ranch residents make notes in a spiral book when they take items such as cheese, canned tuna or molasses, Johnson said.

Small gardens border the two- and three-story homes — roses bloom at one — and some have covered porches. The schoolhouse has the same log-and-concrete construction as the homes.

Jessop said that just as in any neighborhood, the school is a community building, while residences are private.

At the entrance to the ranch is a chain-locked metal gate. But the front door to the schoolhouse — empty because the children are in foster care around the state — was unlocked during the media visit.

"When you guys came in, no one came running over and unlocked the door," Jessop said.

To Legal Aid lawyer Nancy DeLong of Corpus Christi, who represents several mothers, the setup is not much different from a gated community.

"People live together closely, but that doesn't mean they live in the same home," DeLong said. "It's just so obvious to me."

The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin agreed.

The opinion issued last week by Chief Justice Kenneth Law and Justices Bob Pemberton and Alan Waldrop said: "While there was evidence that the living arrangements on the ranch are more communal than most typical neighborhoods, the evidence was not legally or factually sufficient to support a theory that the entire ranch community was a 'household' " under state law.

The Texas family code defines "household" as "a unit composed of persons living together in the same dwelling, without regard to whether they are related to each other."

And state law says that when considering whether a child is in immediate danger, a court may consider whether the child's household includes someone who has abused another child.

Scott McCown, a former state district judge and executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said that it's a case-by-case decision whether to remove other children from a home where abuse or neglect has been found. But when a child has been sexually abused, he said, it's common to remove the other children.

"What's troubling about the Court of Appeals decision," McCown said, "is if you've got some family sharing some common space and answering to a common leader and one of the men is a pedophile, you could remove his child, but if the other parents said, 'We're going to live here with this pedophile,' you'd have to leave all the other children."

In appealing the 3rd Court's ruling, CPS last week reiterated testimony by supervisory investigator Angie Voss during a mass hearing in April: "When you find one child that's a victim in a home, you have concerns for all of them," she said. "And the ranch is considered one large home, one large community. I would have concerns for any children there."

Voss said the ranch wouldn't be safe for any child — even babies and toddlers — because the parents said they aren't harming the children and that "the practice of children being united and having children is part of their culture and belief system."

Sect leader Warren Jeffs at times excommunicated sect members who displeased him and "reassigned" their wives and children to other men, according to "When Men Become Gods" by Stephen Singular.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah last year in connection with an arranged marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Court records filed Thursday in Arizona show that DNA samples were taken from Jeffs as part of a Texas investigation into whether he fathered children with four underage girls at the Eldorado Ranch.

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Ruling: Some FLDS children must go back; dissent says teenage girls remain at risk

Deseret News - May 29, 2008

CPS will work toward 'prompt and orderly' reunification

By Ben Winslow, Linda Thomson and Amy Joi O'Donoghue

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the removal of FLDS children from the YFZ Ranch was unwarranted — and the decision to take them was an abuse of judicial discretion.

The decision today comes after Texas RioGrande Legal Aid filed a writ of mandamus in the Third Court of Appeals on behalf of 38 mothers.

In its ruling, the high court said that state law gave the lower court broad authority to protect children "short of separating them from their parents and placing them in foster care," including removing alleged perpetrators from a child's home and preventing the removal of a child from the jurisdiction of the investigating agency.

Those options were not embraced, the court said in affirming an appellate court last week, saying Child Protective Services failed to show an immediate danger to the more than 400 children swept up from the Yearning For Zion Ranch nearly two months ago.

"On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the justices said in their ruling issued in Austin, Texas.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS, said today's ruling is vindication for the FLDS and called on Texas to "lay down arms."

The dissenting opinion, in the nine-member ruling, did say while it agreed the trial court erred in removing boys and pre-pubescent girls from the ranch, it believed teenage girls remain in jeopardy at the YFZ Ranch because of a pattern of sexual abuse.

In a statement made this afternoon, FLDS member Willie Jessop said members were emerging from a nightmare and urged the state of Texas to put the families back together. "I know that there is hope and it will be a great, great day when there are fathers and mothers hugging little children that were ripped away from them."

A spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services told the Desert News their attorneys were reviewing the case.

"We are disappointed but we understand and respect the court's decision and will take immediate steps to comply," said Marleigh Meisner. "Child protective services has one purpose in this case — to protect the children. Our goal is to reunite families and make sure the children will be safe. We will continue to prepare for the prompt and orderly reunification of these children with their families. We will also work with the district court to ensure the safety of the children and that all of our actions conform with the decision of the Texas Supreme Court."

Lawyers for the mothers said the Supreme Court's ruling still allows child welfare authorities to conduct an investigation but "they have to go about it the correct way," said Cynthia Martinez, with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Society. The decision gets the children out of foster care facilities as soon as it can be coordinated with the courts.

Jessop said FLDS members would be willing to cooperate within reason with any child welfare investigation. Contrary to reports by CPS, Jessop said FLDS members tried to cooperate early on in the investigation last March to no avail. Ultimately, the YFZ Ranch was raided by Texas authorities and the 400-plus children were removed and placed into state custody.

"There have been many many allegations and, insinuations. The FLDS people I am acquainted with do not allow their children to be married without at least a legal age. We do not understand where this is coming from," he said.

The decision was lauded by attorneys who filed the appeal of Judge Barbara Walther's decision to allow the state to keep custody following a two-day adversial hearing in April.

"It's great to see that the court system is working in the interest of justice," said Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Kevin Dietz who is leading the group of attorneys working on the case.

The decision gives the mothers new hope that their families will be reunited relatively soon. Although the decision only applies to the 38 mothers named in the case, the decision will likely influence all the families, Dietz said.

"These mothers have never given up their fight to bring their families back together," added Dietz. "TRLA remains dedicated to working with the courts and CPS to do what is in the best interest of these children. Right now, that means reuniting these families."

Walther was not in court this afternoon and any order from her vacating her previous decision could come as early as Friday.

"We are all very very happy with the ruling. It vindicates what we have said from the beginning. The children should never have been taken from their home and families and kept from their families for such a long time," said Rene Haas, an attorney for Joseph and Laurie Jessop, who have three children in state custody. The Jessops struck a deal with CPS that allowed their children to return to them as long as they remained in the San Antonio area.

Haas said she is trying to clarify whether the family needs to move back to the ranch. She said the family has every intention of "continuing to live in peace in Texas which was their hope when they moved here three years ago."

[missing from original article] ordered the children removed from the YFZ Ranch was correct in doing so to protect teenage girls who were in danger of being sexually abused.

The decision does not let the FLDS off the hook, and in a measured and thoughtful dissent, Justice Harriet O'Neill said teenage girls at the YFZ Ranch face the danger of sexual abuse.

While she agreed there was no evidence of imminent danger to the safety of the boys and pre-pubescent girls to justify removal, she said the state agency needed more time to work to protect the ranch's "endangered" population — teenage girls.

For that group, O'Neill argued that the trial court did not abuse its discretion given the obstacles authorities encountered in gathering information.

The dissenting opinion was supported by Justice Phil Johnson and Justice Don R. Willett.

In their dissent, the three justices said evidence was presented that showed:

• Several teenage girls on the ranch were pregnant or had given birth.

• The ranch's religious leader had "unilateral power to decide when and to whom they would be married."

• Documents taken from the ranch showed there were "several extremely young mothers or pregnant 'wives'" on the ranch.

• One expert confirmed that the FLDS Church accepts the age of "physical development" (the start of a monthly cycle for a girl) as the age of eligibility for "marriage."

• A child psychologist testified that pregnancy of underage children at the ranch was the result of sexual abuse because children ages 15, 15 or 16 are "not sufficiently mature to enter a healthy consensual sexual relationship or 'marriage.'

"Evidence presented thus indicated a pattern of practice of sexual abuse of pubescent girls, and the condoning of such sexual abuse, on the ranch — evidence sufficient to satisfy 'a person of ordinary prudence and caution' that other such girls were at risk of sexual abuse as well," the dissenting opinion said.

"This evidence supports the trial court's finding that 'there was a danger to the physical health or safety" of pubescent girls on the ranch," the opinion states.

In addition, the dissenting opinion said that the Department of Family and Protective Services was hampered in its efforts to protect the children through any alternative means other than taking them from the ranch.

The department is required to "make reasonable efforts" to avoid taking custody of endangered children, but department employees found that children on the ranch would not give information about their birth dates, who their parents were, who lived in their homes, and, in several cases, lied repeated.

Parents at the ranch also gave inconsistent information and officials discovered a shredder that had been used to destroy documents just before department officials arrived.

"Thwarted by the resistant behavior of both children and parents on the ranch, the department had limited options," the dissenting opinion said.

The department could not get restraining orders, for example, because it would not know whom to restrain. It also could not prevent certain family members from having access to a child because it could not file a pleading or affidavit, which has to identify the parent and child the department seeks to keep apart.

The three dissenting justices also said that the trial court heard evidence that "the mothers themselves believed that the practice of underage 'marriage' and procreation was not harmful for young girls ..." the opinion said.

The department will not place children back with their parents until it is certain that the parents realize that what happened in the first place hurt the children.

"This is some evidence that the department could not have reasonably sought to maintain custody with the mothers. Thus, evidence presented to the trial court demonstrated that the department took reasonable efforts, consistent with extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to protect the children without taking them into custody," the dissenting opinion said.

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29 May 2008

Convicted Priest seeks new trial, challenges victim's repressed memories

Associated Press - May 28, 2008

BOSTON (AP) — A defrocked priest at the center of the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Boston Archdiocese is making a bid for a new trial by challenging his victim's repressed memories.

Defrocked priest Paul Shanley is serving a 12- to 15-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2005 of repeatedly raping and fondling a boy at a Newton parish in the 1980s.

In a motion for a new trial, Shanley claims his former lawyer did not properly challenge the repressed-memory evidence that helped convict him. The victim testified he did not remember the sexual abuse until 2002, when they came rushing back as the sex abuse scandal unfolded in the media.

Shaw argues that Shanley's trial attorney should have presented evidence that the theory of repressed memory is challenged within the scientific community.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said the verdict was just and that Shanley has not raised sufficient reason for a new trial.

"The concept of recovered memory by victims of abuse has been accepted by both the scientific and legal communities, as well as the jury who convicted Mr. Shanley after hearing the full evidence in this case," Leone said. "We remain confident in the jury's verdict."

Judge Stephen Neel, who presided at Shanley's trial, is scheduled to hear arguments in Suffolk Superior Court on Thursday.

Shanley was known in the 1960s and 1970s as a "street priest" who reached out to troubled children and gays. He became a central figure in the abuse scandal after church records released in 2002 showed that officials were aware of sexual abuse complaints against him as early as 1967 but continued to transfer him from parish to parish.

At least two dozen men claim to have been molested by Shanley. Many reached settlements with the Boston Archdiocese.

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Fugitive leader of Jerusalem sect is suspected of orchestrating the worst case of systematic child abuse in Israel's history

Haaretz - Israel May 28, 2008

Fugitive suspected child abuser's kids removed from wife's custody

by Uri Blau and Yair Ettinger | Haaretz Correspondents

Authorities transferred custody Wednesday of four children belonging to the wife of an alleged child abuser, who is currently overseas fleeing arrest together with his wife, in an effort to entice the two to return to Israel and face charges, Haaretz has learned.

Elior Chen, who headed a Jerusalem sect that was found to have abused young children, and his wife, Ruth, are in hiding in a foreign country, the name of which cannot be revealed due to censorship laws. In the coming days, a representative of the family is expected to travel to the country where the couple is hiding, and will attempt to persuade them to return home. Police removed the children from the care of Ruth Chen's family and will deliver them to the care of a foster family.

Both Israeli law enforcement and the loca police in the foreign country know in which city the two are located, however their exact location remains unclear. According to information obtained by Haaretz, Ruth Chen is supportive of her husband, thus prompting police to remove the children from her custody in hopes of pressuring her husband to turn himself in.

Jerusalem police last month issued an international arrest warrant against Elior Chen, a spiritual leader who is suspected of orchestrating the worst case of systematic child abuse in Israel's history.

Haaretz reported that Chen had fled the country with one of his disciples after the arrest of a Jerusalem mother, apparently another of his disciples, on suspicion she severely abused her eight children at Chen's bidding. The mother was indicted for allegedly burning her toddlers, making them eat feces and locking them in a suitcase for days at a time, among other charges.

Chen was planning to meet other members of his spiritual sect in the country to which he fled, who had not yet been arrested, and the group was apparently planning to hide there together.

The police hope that the arrest warrant will facilitate the extradition and apprehension of the fugitives.

During a search of Chen's home on Thursday, police found evidence that appears to link the spiritual leader to the abuse, including journals that document the violence.

The remand of the mother currently held in custody was extended Sunday until April 14.

Two of the mother's children, aged 4 and 5, were hospitalized in serious condition two weeks ago, after Chen allegedly ordered two of his followers to discipline the children by beating, burning, pushing and shaking them, and tying them up as a way of "correcting" their behavior.

The 4-year-old remains in a coma. Police suspect that Chen's supporters also doused the children in hot and cold water and broke their bones with hammers and blows.

Jerusalem police also arrested an additional suspect in the case, and have issued a gag order regarding his identity. The Magistrate's Court extended his remand by five days.

Chen and three of his supporters allegedly began providing the family with "educational lessons" several months ago. They allegedly kicked the father out of his home and began abusing several of the family's eight children, especially the two youngest.

Chen and his disciple, Yosef Fischer, left the country legally, and their exit was registered at border control. Afterward, their wives and children went into hiding. The Fisher apartment has been cleared out and its contents have been placed in storage.

Elior Chen's father, Yaakov Chen, told Haaretz he did not know where his son or his son's family were hiding. "I didn't see him, I don't know where he is," he said. "The last time I saw him was three weeks ago, after he had a girl. I went to his home in Upper Betar, gave him a present and that's it. I haven't seen him since. I'm sitting at home and eating my heart out."

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Sect Mothers Say Separation Endangers Children

New York Times - May 29, 2008


Ruth Edna Fischer was first allowed to see her 2-year-old daughter, from whom she had been separated after the raid on their polygamist ranch in Texas, at the child’s hospital room. The child had been taken there because of severe dehydration and malnutrition, Ms. Fischer said.

Ruth Edna Fischer, visiting two of her four children, Joseph Smith Jeffs and Hyrum Smith Jeffs, twins who are in Texas custody.

“Hannah looked like a little orphan sitting on the couch,” Ms. Fischer said. “Her hair was stringy and she was in a diaper, a pair of dirty socks and a hospital gown.”

The second visit two weeks later at a state office in Angleton, Tex., was worse. The girl would not even meet her mother’s gaze. “It was like she hardly remembered me,” said Ms. Fischer, who has four children in state custody.

As they await a ruling by the highest court in Texas on whether child-welfare authorities had the right to take 468 children from the ranch early last month, the mothers have started speaking out more forcefully about what they think the separation has already done to their children.

The mothers and their lawyers are undoubtedly trying to make their best pitch for public sympathy as the Supreme Court of Texas deliberates on the fate of their children. Last Thursday, an appeals court in Austin found that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had illegally removed the children without sufficient evidence that they were in immediate danger.

On Friday, state officials asked the higher court for an emergency order that would allow them to keep all but a dozen children in their custody. The dozen children were returned to their parents under the condition that they have continuing supervision. The Supreme Court denied the stay on Friday, but said it would consider the case over the weekend. No decision has been issued yet.

Many child-welfare experts across the nation, who have as a group watched the high-profile Texas case closely, say the raid on the polygamist ranch diverged sharply from the recommended practices both in Texas and elsewhere in the country.

They say a growing body of research supports the contention of the mothers that forceful removal can have both significant short-term and long-lasting harm, particularly for younger children. Some studies have found that the wide-ranging effects include anxiety, extreme distrust of strangers and, in the future, higher rates of teenage pregnancy and juvenile incarceration.

Through their lawyers and in personal interviews, the mothers have been spilling tales of toddlers who have forgotten toilet training and 3-year-olds who cling to them frantically during visits. Ms. Fischer’s child became dehydrated as a result of a fever.

It is because of the growing national consensus about the scarring effect of removal on children, even if only temporarily, that federal law — to which all state law must defer — demands that children be removed only if “reasonable efforts” to keep them at home have been made.

Many states, like Oregon and Tennessee, have gone even further to protect children from the trauma of removal by giving families intensive in-home services first, and then, if the child is taken, having conferences with the parents, kin and friends from the community within 48 hours to help smooth the transition.

Some experts in Texas state law and procedure say the state not only violated minimum national standards, which are written into the Texas Family Code, but they also violated due process considerations. These were essentially the findings of the appeals court.

“They made no effort to keep the children there at the ranch,” said Johana Scot, executive director of the Parent Guidance Center in Austin, which helps advocate for the rights of parents who have had their children taken into foster care.

“And even worse, they did not give the families individual hearings, which they are also required to do by the code,” Ms. Scot said. “They’ve really botched this.”

Marleigh Meisner, a public information officer for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, said she could not discuss any particulars of this case. But in the filing to the Texas Supreme Court last Friday, the state held that because the parents had declined to identify which children belonged to whom, they could not at first be treated individually.

Further, the state asserted that all children were at risk because they were being indoctrinated into a pattern of sexual abuse — the young girls as victims, and the boys as predators.

Last Friday, to bolster its case, the state made public a picture of what it said was the now-imprisoned leader of the church, Warren S. Jeffs, kissing a 12-year female child on the lips.

The state’s raid on the Yearning for Zion ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or F.L.D.S., came on April 3 after someone called an abuse hot line and said that she was a 16-year-old child bride being abused by her older husband at the ranch in Eldorado, Tex., which is about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

The state raided the ranch and conducted an extensive investigation of the sect’s files and found that numerous girls under the age of 16, some as young as 13, had been impregnated by older men. The caller has not been found.

Lawyers for the families say Texas officials overstepped the law in removing the children from their families; some three-quarters of the children were under age 10 and presumably not at “imminent risk” of abuse, which is the standard, according to federal law. Less draconian options, which the state did not employ, could have included removing all the men from the ranch or only the teenage girls, the lawyers have argued.

Steven D. Cohen, a senior associate at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national child-advocacy organization, said that while he could not say whether Texas officials acted improperly in taking the children from their mothers, he did think that they had violated numerous standards of best practice widely used elsewhere.

“Breaking all of the ties to several parental figures and siblings, and taking them to a remote and unfamiliar place raises many red flags about trauma and its effect on children,” Mr. Cohen said

Experts say younger children, who often do not have a sense of the passage of time, can be particularly hard hit by such separations. About 100 of the children removed from the sect were 2 years old or younger.

Shelly Greco, a court-appointed lawyer for a 14-month-old girl removed from the ranch, says the child had been up crying uncontrollably many nights because she was so abruptly weaned.

Numerous studies in recent years show that the effects of removal can be long lasting, often not showing up fully for a decade of more. In one study, Joseph J. Doyle, an economist with the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., found that children removed from their parents and taken into foster care, even for a relatively short period, were three times as likely to grow up to be juvenile offenders or have a teenage pregnancy than were children from similarly troubled homes who had been left with their parents.

Professor Doyle said Texas was far from alone in erring on the side of removal. “From the caseworker’s point of view, the incentive is to take the kid,” he said. “That’s the safer choice, because it is unlikely that if something terrible happens in foster care they would be blamed. Whereas if something were to happen at home, the caseworker would be blamed.”

But Lori Jessop, one of a few mothers from the ranch who were reunited with their children in a court-brokered agreement last Friday, said she had already seen the impact of this situation. Ms. Jessop said her three children were suffering from night terrors and a fear of strangers, among other problems. She said that when her 4-year-old daughter recently saw a picture of a bus, like the one used to transport the children when they were in foster care, she started to cry.

“It’s affected her a lot,” Ms. Jessop said. “Everybody that she sees, especially adult men, she calls them policemen.”

Gretel C. Kovach contributed reporting.

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28 May 2008

Self-proclaimed messiah says that "he is ready to go" and "I want to take all of my children with me"

Red Orbit - May 27, 2008

Cops Worry About Web Posting
By VIC VELA | Albuquerque Journal Northern Bureau

The self-proclaimed messiah of a northern New Mexico doomsday cult said recently that "he is ready to go" and "I want to take all of my children with me" in a Web site posting that has caught the attention of law enforcement.
But Wayne C. Bent, 67, denies his remarks indicate that his group is planning a mass suicide.
Bent -- indicted earlier this week by a grand jury on charges of sex crimes against children -- wrote on his group's Web site Wednesday that "we must leave this world behind, or we would spiritually die as the wicked are spiritually dead."
"I cannot live here, and will not live here just the moment my Father gives me release," he wrote. "The earth is hell, and nothing like the light of my Father's bright domain."
The posting by the leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church has not gone unnoticed by law enforcement.
"It's obviously a concern when somebody hints at assisted suicide," State Police spokesman Peter Olson said. "At this moment, though, we don't have much more evidence than a rambling post on a Web site."
In 2002, State Police and the FBI investigated rumors of a mass suicide at the group's Strong City compound, located near Des Moines in rural Union County. Nothing came out of the investigation and Bent's son, Jeff Bent, told the Journal in a recent interview that such an event was never planned.
Wayne Bent replied to an e-mail request by the Journal for clarification of his post by saying, "from your world, it would surely be a good question."
He then referred to a KRQE-TV Web site link in which he told the television station by e-mail that "we have been accused of planning suicide. But this would never be an option for us, for suicide is the coward's way off of the earth."
Bent was arrested at the compound May 6 by State Police on allegations that he had inappropriate sexual contact with three girls, one of whom would have been 12 at the time of the act.
Bent faces two counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Source: Albuquerque Journal
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Texas Warns Polygamist Sect Families Could Flee State

Fox News - May 28, 2008
Associated Press

AUSTIN — The families with children seized from a polygamist sect's ranch could flee Texas and out of state jurisdiction if an appeals court ruling is allowed to stand, Texas child welfare authorities argued Tuesday.

Child Protective Services lawyers have asked the state Supreme Court to block a lower court's decision that said putting the children from the ranch in state custody was improper. The Third District Court of Appeals in Austin said the state failed to show the youngsters were in any immediate danger, the only grounds under Texas law for taking children from their parents without court action.

In updated filings with the Texas Supreme Court, CPS lawyers argued Tuesday that if the custody orders are rescinded and the mothers take the children out of state, "no Texas court would have any authority to enter any orders to protect these children."

The families could take refuge in Hilldale, Utah, or Colorado City, Ariz., the area where the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is based.

The state filed its original appeal on Friday, arguing that Texas law gave the lower-court judge discretion on whether to remove the children.

Also on Tuesday, a judge ruled that CPS can keep in its care an infant born to a polygamist sect member on May 12. Under the temporary custody agreement, the 2-week old boy will remain in state custody with his two older siblings, a 3-year-old sister and a 1-year-old brother.

Their mother, 22-year-old Louisa Bradshaw Jessop, will be allowed to live with her children under state supervision, according to the agreement.

About 440 children at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado were taken into custody more than six weeks ago after someone called a hot line claiming to be a pregnant, abused teenage wife. The girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the calls were a hoax.

The case amounted to one of the biggest child-custody actions in U.S. history. Members of the FLDS claim they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

The FLDS, which teaches that polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Texas child welfare authorities have argued that all the children, from newborns to teenagers, should be removed from the ranch because the sect pushes underage girls into marriage and sex and encourages boys to become future perpetrators.

The appeals court ruling against the state technically applied only to the 124 children of 38 mothers who filed the complaint. Texas officials, however, acknowledged Tuesday it could harm their case with the hundreds of other children from the ranch.

The state's Tuesday court filing also says that DNA testing for alleged mothers and fathers of the children is not yet complete and that the children could be returned to sexual predators if the court doesn't rule in its favor. The first DNA results are expected next week.

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Texas fires back with photos in FLDS case

Deseret News - May 24, 2008

Lawyers say that female pictured with Jeffs is his 12-year-old wife

By Ben Winslow

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Shocking photographs of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs kissing someone that Texas Child Protective Services lawyers alleged is a 12-year-old "wife" have become evidence in a custody battle over a 1-week-old baby.

The photographs, dated July 2006, were entered into evidence Friday during a hearing involving the custody of Richard Joseph Jessop, born last week to Louisa Bradshaw (Jessop) and her husband, Dan Jessop. The state is seeking custody of the baby.

Texas Child Protective Services lawyers would not say where they obtained the photographs but entered them into evidence in the case to prove their point about the FLDS culture being abusive, with girls growing up to be child brides and boys being primed to become sexual predators.

"Yes, it's shocking," Dan Jessop told reporters outside of court. "You see far worse, immoral, disgusting, gross things than a girl kissing a man in the streets of your own community. And you and I don't know if the state of Texas fabricated that."

Lawyers for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services refused to comment on the photos as they raced out of the courthouse. A spokeswoman for the agency also declined comment late Friday night.

It appears the state is firing back after an appellate court ruling Thursday that ordered some children from the YFZ Ranch to be returned to their mothers immediately, citing a lack of evidence that there was an immediate danger.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services asked the Texas Supreme Court for an emergency stay and appealed the decision. It came the same day child welfare authorities agreed to reunite 12 children with their parents in San Antonio, until the high court issues its ruling.

The hearing for Dan and Louisa Jessop will resume on Tuesday morning. It is unclear if the massive status hearings for the parents of the 450-plus children will continue Tuesday.

During grueling questioning on the witness stand Friday, Louisa Bradshaw appeared evasive, answering "I don't know" to inquiries about where she has lived, how she came to be at the YFZ Ranch and who lives in the home with her. Her testimony revealed she lived most recently with her husband in a home with YFZ Ranch boss Merrill Jessop, Dan's father.

Bradshaw struggled to name anyone else who lived in the home, aside from her own children and one of Merrill Jessop's wives, Barbara.

"Is it a concern to you that you don't know the people in the house?" CPS attorney Ellen Griffith asked her.

"No," Bradshaw replied.

"How do you know they are safe to be around?"

"Because they are sweet."

If he were to have his way, Dan Jessop would have the children return to the YFZ Ranch. That troubled Randol Stout, an attorney appointed by the courts to represent the baby. He grilled Jessop about his home life and what would change.

"What else is going to change? Anything?" he demanded to know.

Together, Dan Jessop and Louisa Bradshaw's testimony revealed a portrait of their life in the polygamous sect. Jessop said he met his wife on the day of their wedding on Dec. 14, 2003. His father asked him if he'd like to be married and said that his bride had been chosen for him.

"I don't think I could have made a better choice," Jessop said, smiling at his wife from the witness stand.

Bradshaw testified that she was married to Jessop in a ceremony presided over by Warren Jeffs. Only their fathers attended.

Jessop had no more than an eighth-grade education, but he makes a decent living working for the FLDS Church as a heavy-machinery mechanic. Bradshaw, who completed tenth grade, has experience in accounting.

The couple has three children now, a 3-year-old girl, a 2-year-old boy and the baby. They moved to the YFZ Ranch, then moved to Colorado (Jessop was vague under questioning about where) before returning to the YFZ Ranch again, where they lived in a bedroom with their children in Merril Jessop's home.

When the raid occurred on April 3, Bradshaw and her children were placed in state custody. Bradshaw was in the category of the so-called "disputed minors," girls that the state believed were underage, but whom the FLDS insisted were adults. Over the past week of court hearings, the state's number has been steadily whittled away. Now, Texas concedes that 15 of the 31 women in foster care are adults, including one who is 27.

In Bradshaw's case, she provided them with documentation of her age but it wasn't believed.

"They finally found out the second my baby was born," the 22-year-old woman said.

Asked how she was treated by Texas child welfare workers, Bradshaw said she has had few meetings with them, they have never spoken to her about services and never identified any physical dangers to her son or told her where she failed to protect her children from abuse.

Asked if she would allow her 3-year-old daughter to marry at age 14, Jessop replied, "No. Not right now."

Asked what is age appropriate to be married, she replied: "Seventeen or 18."

"Is it your purpose to raise your child to be a sexual predator to have sex with an underage girl?" Jessop's attorney, Patricia Matassarin, asked Dan Jessop.

"Morals are our highest standard. That's the farthest thing from what we teach," he replied.

Jessop and his wife said that if the state wanted them to move off the ranch in order to have custody of their children, they would. Asked why they would leave the ranch, Bradshaw said: "To get out of the way of CPS."

Pressing their case about a pervasive pattern of sex abuse within the FLDS culture, CPS attorney Ellen Griffith showed photos to Bradshaw, claiming that the girl in the pictures is 13.

"Is that (the girl) in that picture?" Griffith asked.

"Yes," Jessop replied.

"Who is that?" she asked, pointing at the man in the picture.

"The prophet."

"Warren Jeffs?"


Bradshaw said she had never seen those pictures before.

"Do you know whether (the girl) is married to the prophet?"

"I do not know for sure."

The photographs show Jeffs kissing the girls in a manner that CPS lawyers described as "how a husband kisses a wife."

Bradshaw's attorneys objected to the use of the photos in evidence, but CPS said they were presented to show the woman's state of mind and how she would protect her own children.

"It just happens to be Warren Jeffs in the pictures," Griffith said.

More photos, entitled "First Anniversary January 26, 2005" were also entered into evidence. The girl in those pictures is also kissing Jeffs. CPS lawyers did not elaborate on that particular photo, but suggested again that the girl is a minor.

On the stand, Jessop revealed that the girl in question was one of his sisters but he said he did not know if she was married to the FLDS leader.

Jessop was asked if he considered the photographs evidence of sexual abuse.

"I do not consider a girl kissing a man sex abuse," he said.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney acting as a spokesman for the FLDS Church, told the Deseret News late Friday the release of the photographs is a public relations move on the part of Texas CPS officials.

"They don't have anything to do with Dan and Louisa Jessop. They have to do with somebody else," he said.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is currently in an Arizona jail, where he is facing charges accusing him of performing more child-bride marriages.

Bradshaw said as far as she is concerned, Jeffs is in prison for "unjust causes."

"Why is that?" Griffith asked.

"Because he is perfect to me," she said.

As shocking as the photographs were, attorneys for the couple tried to figure out what they had to do with Dan Jessop and Louisa Bradshaw.

Matassarin objected to the line of questioning by attorneys, making reference to the 3rd Court of Appeals decision vacating Judge Barbara Walther's order placing the children in state custody. She wondered what was the immediate or dire emergency that led the state to take custody of the Jessop's child.

Walther shot her down, saying she has been criticized for not providing enough evidence.

"We're going to have a full blown adversarial hearing and if it takes two or three days, we'll do it," the judge said.

As they walked down the courthouse steps toward a crush of cameras and reporters, Louisa Bradshaw lifted the baby blanket to reveal the newborn son she was cradling in her arms to a few reporters. He was asleep, sucking on a pacifier.

Jessop said it was only the second time he has seen his son since the baby was born. As he spoke to reporters, a CPS worker interrupted him.

"We need to take her," the woman said, trying to remove his arm which was wrapped around his wife.

"I'll walk with her," he said.

"We have to go," the worker said, prodding them toward the street. "Come on, let's go."

The couple walked toward an SUV, where Bradshaw was loaded in the back seat and her baby was placed in a carseat next to her. Jessop reached in and hugged his wife.

"It's rough to be separated from your family over and over again," he said.

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