Rangers investigating dozens in Texas polygamist sect - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Rangers investigating dozens in Texas polygamist sect

By MICHELLE ROBERTS Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO - Texas Rangers are investigating roughly 20 abuse cases and 50 bigamy cases involving members of a polygamist sect, a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman confirmed.

DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange today cautioned, however, that it remains unclear how many cases will ultimately be pursued. The Rangers, the investigative branch of DPS, are working with state troopers and prosecutors and are still sorting through the 400 boxes of documents seized from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in an April raid, she said.

The number of ongoing investigations stemming from the raid was first reported today by the Deseret News, citing e-mails released through a public records request.

"I would anticipate that a number of criminal cases would come out of this criminal investigation," Mange said.

She and Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, declined to discuss how many people might ultimately be charged. Strickland's office is handling the prosecution of sect members.

Willie Jessop, an FLDS member, said today he didn't have any immediate comment on the number of criminal investigations.

In July, a Schleicher County grand jury indicted the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs, and four of his followers on charges of sexual assault of a child.

One follower faces an additional charge of bigamy.

The sect's doctor was charged with three misdemeanor counts of failing to report child abuse.

The indicted FLDS members - who include Raymond Merrill Jessop, 36; Allan Eugene Keate, 56; Michael George Emack, 57; Merrill Leroy Jessop, 33; and Dr. Lloyd Hammon Barlow, 38 - made bond after turning themselves in to authorities in late July.

Jeffs, convicted last year in Utah as an accomplice to rape in the marriage of an underage FLDS member, is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on similar charges there.

The FLDS have historically been based around the Arizona-Utah line, and members bought the YFZ Ranch in West Texas about five years ago.

Authorities went to the ranch after calls to a domestic abuse hotline from someone claiming to be underage abused mother, though those calls are now being investigated as a hoax.

The grand jury that has been meeting in Schleicher County to consider the FLDS cases is scheduled to meet again Aug. 21.

Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult.

The state's bigamy statute applies to legal marriages and to couples who purport to marry, a lower standard adopted in part to target so-called "spiritual marriages" like those practiced by FLDS members.

The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago and has aggressively sought to distance itself from the FLDS since the headline-generating raid earlier this year.

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