Polygamist Sect Leader Indicted for Sex Abuse Charges

By Lee Glendinning

July 23, 2008

Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs and four of his followers have been indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of sexual assault of a child after state officials raided a polygamist ranch near Eldorado in April.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said the five men have been formally accused of one count of sexually assaulting girls under 17. One of them also faces an additional charge of bigamy.

Abbott said a sixth member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse.

Jeffs, 52, the controversial spiritual leader and self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has already been sentenced in a Utah court to 10 years to life in prison as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old first cousin. He is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges for arranged marriages there.

According to the indictment he is now accused of assaulting a girl in Texas in January 2005.

"Our investigation in this matter is not concluded," said Abbott, whose office is acting as the special prosecutor in the case.

The identities of Jeffs' followers who were also indicted were not released.

"There will be an aggressive effort to apprehend them," Abbott said when asked whether he was concerned the men might have fled Texas.

Willie Jessop, a church member and spokesman, said members would face the accusations.

"We're actually quite shocked. As soon as we know who they're looking for, we'll try to face it," he said. "We believe in our innocence."

More than 400 child members of the polygamist sect were taken into custody by state officials in April, but were later returned to their families after a Texas judge in June lifted the custody order.

Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult. Bigamy is also illegal in Texas, and although plural marriages were not licensed by the state, the law contains a provision outlawing the act of "purporting to marry" more than one person.


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