Texas Grand Jury Indicts Jeffs, Five Others for Sex Crimes

By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune

July 22, 2008

ELDORADO, Texas - A Schleicher County grand jury indicted polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs and five other FLDS men today on charges related to sexual assaults on underage girls.

The grand jury handed down seven indictments, which contained a total of nine charges. Jeffs, currently awaiting trial in Arizona, is accused of one first-degree felony count of sexually assaulting a child.

Four other men were indicted for allegedly sexually assaulting girls under the age of 17. Each of those suspects faces one felony count of sex assault, and one faces an additional charge of bigamy.

The final defendant has been charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the other men would not be identified until they are taken into custody.

"The indictments issued today are part of an ongoing and continuing criminal investigation," said Abbott, who, in an unusual move, participated in the grand jury's daylong hearing. He praised Texas Rangers and other law enforcement for gathering the evidence presented to jurors.

Abbott said he was releasing Jeffs' name because he is already in custody. Jeffs was convicted last September and is serving two five-to-life sentences on a rape charge related to a marriage he conducted in 2001 between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is awaiting trial on similar charges in Arizona.

He said that once those proceedings end, he will "push for a very speedy trial in this matter."

One activist who has campaigned for government officials to crack down on underage marriages in the sect hailed today's indictments.

"I think it's a great start," said Flora Jessop, a child victim advocate and ex-member of the sect. "I'm proud of Texas for following through on the abuse they found."

Jessop said she hopes the state also holds parents and other adults who were aware of the abuses accountable for sexual assaults on the community's children.

"That's the only way to send a strong message it has got to stop," Jessop said. "This has nothing to do with polygamy. It has to do with systemic rape, molestation and abuse of these children."

Some witnesses have been asked to return to another grand jury session scheduled for Aug. 21, a signal the criminal investigation into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is ongoing.

Willie Jessop, an FLDS spokesman, said late today that the sect will address the allegations "head on."

"As soon as we know who they are looking for we will make contact with the sheriff's office and make arrangements for those people to appear on the charges," he said.

Jessop was at the courthouse all day after being handed a subpoena this morning after a traffic stop. He was accompanied by Las Vegas attorney Richard Wright, who has assisted in Jeffs' defense, and several Texas attorneys. Jessop was not called before the jury, however.

Six FLDS women did appear before the panel, which met in the Memorial Building adjacent to the Schleicher County Courthouse.

During the afternoon proceedings, 51st District Judge Barbara Walther was in the courthouse as at least four of the women were questioned again.

Walther signed the April warrants that were instrumental in the state's raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, home to FLDS members.

Child welfare officials removed more than 400 children, but a Texas appellate court later ruled Walther did not have sufficient evidence to keep them in custody and ordered the children returned to their parents.

The grand jury met in June without issuing any indictments, hearing testimony from many of the witnesses who appeared again today. Among them: Jeffs' 16-year-old daughter, whose marriage at age 15 to a much older man was revealed in court documents filed last week.



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