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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Update on Polygamist Compound Raid-Documents Unsealed And Beds In The Temple

Previously unsealed documents showed why the Texas authorities initiated a raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ) which housed a polygamist compound and newly released search warrants and documents begin to tell a tale of child abuse long ignored.
When the first of many sealed court documents were unsealed it was found out that a 16 year old young lady had called authorities and requested the police help her and her 8 month old baby escape the YFZ Ranch, located near Eldorado, Texas, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In that initial affidavit, she told authorities that she had been brought to the YFZ compound approximately three years earlier and two years after her arrival, when she was 15, she was spiritually married to an adult male member of the church, approximately 49 years old.

She further went on to state that she had been abused starting shortly after her arrival to the compound, saying that the man had "beat and hurt" her, whenever he got angry. She described these beatings saying the man would hit her in the chest and choke her while another woman from the compound would hold her baby and watch.

She alleged that one of those beatings had led to broken ribs and a hospital visit. She claimed the man would rape her and that she was pregnant again.

As the investigation into her allegations began, the police determined that the man identified by the teenager had been previously indicted in Mohave County, Arizona, on charges of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in connection with a purported marriage to a minor in Arizona with whom he had conceived a child.

After obtaining a search warrant to hunt for the girl who had called and asked for help, investigators witnessed other pregnant teenage girls as well as teenage girls who had already given birth and had their own infants.

Investigators described a wide spread pattern of young female members of the group being conditioned to accept the sexual advanced of adult men upon being spiritually married to them once the leaders of the YFZ Ranch had determined the young girls had become of child bearing age, which is approximately 13 to 14 years old.

About 416 children have been removed from the compound to date.

Other court documents were released Wednesday, including a search warrant which outlined findings made by authorities searching the compound, which included allegations of beds in the temple which were used for sex between young girls and their older husbands.

The warrant noted that investigators, who had finally been allowed to enter the temple after some resistance, found several beds – one of which contained a strand of long hair.

There was a brief standoff as compound members tried to block access to the temple but after some tense moments, authorities entered and found multiple locked safes, locked desk drawers, locked vaults, as well as multiple computers and beds.

Other information contained in that warrant included:

• Investigators found several women in their early teens who were married or pregnant or already had babies. In an affidavit, Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long said authorities were told that one girl was under 16 years old and already had four children.

• Frederick Merril Jessop, the leader of the compound, first told authorities there were only 250 people living there.

• The compound includes a surveillance and guard tower near the front gate.

The FBI has now joined the investigation although they refused to elaborate as to why their agency is now involved.

Texas authorities report that they have concluded their search of the YFC Ranch and have left the property and as of yet have not found the or identified the girl that initially kicked off this massive raid and investigation.

Sheriff David Doran, at a press conference this morning said, "We very well may have her. Everyone is diligently working on that, to identify that person."

Attorneys for the church are in court arguing the search of the compound and temple was unconstitutional and compared it to rummaging through the Vatican and prosecutors maintain that the 416 children removed from the ranch were in imminent danger of physical and sexual abuse.

Prosecutors also assert that religious freedom ends when alleged criminal conduct begins.

Andrew Cohen, a CBS News legal analyst says, "I don't think anybody can stand up in court and say it is legal as a religious practice to lock somebody in the closet, or to abuse them physically or sexually or otherwise."

The local investigation may have ended but the federal investigation, the details of which are unknown, has just begun and now it is up to the lawyers and the courts.

There will be a Special Master chosen to review the documents, computers and even family Bibles seized. His job will be to determine what can and cannot be used as evidence for legal or religious reasons.

As of this time, there has been 416 children removed from the compound, 139 women have chosen to leave to be with the children and two men have been arrested.

[Update] The sheriff defends his decision to wait on entering the compound.

"It's just like anything. If you have a meth lab on your property and you feel it's there, you're not going to (trample) their civil rights or treat them any differently until you get probable cause or information or an outcry," said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran.

Also a few more details on the temple raid and how it went down.[End Update]

Documents Detail Abuse at YFZ Ranch
Now 400 Children In Custody from Polygamist Compound- Updated, Second Person Arrested
Standoff at Polygamist Compound-Updated
Children Removed from Warren Jeff's Polygamist Retreat in Texas
Polygamist Sect Leader Warren Jeffs Found Guilty In Utah