The DNA samples of the 416 children that were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, begins today and tomorrow mobile units will also start collecting DNS from the men and women at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) compound, as ordered by Judge Barbara Walthers, which will help authorities determine the lineage of the children and who are the mothers and fathers.
Prosecutors have new weapons against polygamy and marriage involving underage teens because Texas lawmakers heeded Utah authorities' experience with the FLDS group.
According to experts, determining the lineage of the children may prove challenging but not impossible.
A professor of human genetics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Lynn Jorde, says that determining the parentage of 416 children from a polygamous sect may be a bit more complicated because most members of the closed community share common ancestry but should not prevent Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) from identifying parents, saying that her intuition is that, "it's not going to cause serious problems."
Her view is shared by the chairman of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, Arthur L. Beaudet, who says, "DNA studies should be able to answer all questions quite readily except for distinguishing parents who might be identical twins."
These DNA tests will be used for multiple purposes, and were ordered because a CPS investigator told Judge Walther at the two day hearings to determine custody of the 416 children that it had been "been tough to link children to parents because they've been trained to evade questions about relationships and use 'mother' to address all their father's wives."
Last Friday a Texas State Judge ordered the DNA tests of 416 children as well as parental testing for the parents, to determine the lineage of the children. Testing will not only determine lineage, but could provide a basis for criminal charges.
Testimony at those hearings by CPS investigators showed that multiple children under the age of 17, were found to be pregnant, which according to those investigators and officials, gave ample cause to believe that the children were at imminent risk of abuse if they were returned to the FLDS compound.
The Judge agreed and awarded temporary custody of all 416 children to the state of Texas as well as ordering the aforementioned DNA tests.
The article linked above brings up another interesting point:
Amplifying the name confusion is this: Most every person in the FLDS community can trace his or her family lines back to four original founders - John Y. Barlow, Leroy S. Johnson and Richard and Fred Jessop. Those surnames, along with Jeffs, Keate and Steed, dominate the community today.
This brings up a myriad of other questions as well as new Texas state laws that were passed because Texas lawmakers heeded Utah authorities' experience with the FLDS sect.
In 2001, authorities in Utah started cracking down on underage marriages and arranged marriages of teenagers, within the FLDS group.
The allegations made national headlines -- young girls forced to marry older men, teenage boys ejected from the community to create a surplus of brides, and police officers who turned a blind eye toward the practices.
A handful of prosecutions ensued, including a police officer accused of marrying an underage girl.
In 2004, the FLDS groups started constructing a compound in Texas and Texas lawmakers, at the urging of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, started taking steps in 2005 to strengthen its laws.
Shurtleff's statement to the Texas legislator was clear and blunt, when told them, "Imagine a community run as a theocracy, where women are considered nothing but property, where women have two purposes -- to please their man sexually and have children."
The Texas legislators took his advice and made major changes to their laws against polygamy and underage marriage.
Representative Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville sponsored the new bill to strengthen the laws and upgraded the penalties for polygamy from misdemeanor to felony and raised the minimum age that minors with parents' permission can marry from 14 to 16, modeling the new laws after Utah's statutes.
In cases where teenage girls have babies, authorities will look closely at how old they were when they conceived and at the father's age. And because polygamous sects do not file marriage certificates of second and third wives, the law also allows prosecutors to charge people with polygamy in situations where there is an appearance of the crime, such as multiple wives living under one roof.
According to the legislative director for the Texas District and County Attorney's Association, Shannon Edmonds, polygamy was rarely prosecuted because it was a misdemeanor in the past and now that it carries the potential penalty of lengthy prison terms, prosecutors are more likely to prosecute.
Prosecuting laws with no precedent will prove to be challenging, then again, that is how precedents are set to begin with.
The final version of the bill also made it illegal for children to marry their stepparents. It also provided for the prosecution of parents who allowed children younger than 16 to get married.
In here lies the basis of concern for many, as well as a whole slew of legal ramifications for the mothers and fathers of the 416 children now in state custody.
The specific laws in that bill that apply to the polygamist FLDS sect.
Prohibits marriage of people younger than 16. Requires parental consent of people 16-17;
Prohibits marriage between current and former stepchildren and stepparents;
Provides for felony prosecution of parents who allow children younger than 16 to marry;
Allows for prosecution of people who perform wedding ceremonies for people younger than 16;
Prohibits people from being in a common-law marriage if they are already married;
Makes having sex with first cousins a second-degree felony, while other forms of incest may be considered third-degree felonies;
Voids marriages in which one of the parties is underage, meaning that sexual acts committed during those marriages can be considered felonies.
Now, if as shown in portions of the Bishop's records that were introduced into evidence in the two custody hearings, that most everyone in the FLDS compound can be traced back to four original founders and three additional surnames, which totals seven families, how many of the above laws will these DNA tests prove have been broken?
Questions of Incest.
CBS reports that at least one expert, Lawrence Kobilinsky, who is a professor of forensic science at John Jay College in New York, warns that the chain of custody of the massive amount of DNA samples must be managed that they needed to be careful of any "mix-ups", but when he was asked about another issue, one of incest with the FLDS community and whether these DNA tests could establish if incest occurred, he responded by saying, "I believe there will be. When you have situations like that, people are more closely related, DNA technology is able to establish kinship, so we can do a paternity, we can do kinship. It's the same kind of testing that we use for criminal matters."
This is not the first time issues of incest have come up in regards to the FLDS community, in fact, Warren Jeffs, the sect's self-pronounced prophet, who was convicted in Utah of being an accomplice in the rape of a 14-year-old girl, is now in Arizona awaiting trial and the charges against him are sexual conduct with a minor, incest and conspiracy.
Time has a report, from yesterday. discussing the construction of the the FLDS community's family tree as well as discussing the group's custom of allowing first cousins to marry and what genetic dangers this presents to children in the form of "Fumarase Deficiency syndrome", including severe defects, which have been found in disturbing levels in the Hildale-Colorado City enclave.
Most of these issues will not be dealt with in the hearings for custody of these children because those are focused on child abuse and sexual abuses on children, but everything that gets entered into the court record, will then provide prosecutors already established evidence for future indictments.
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