5 more arrested from west Texas polygamist sect

Associated Press/July 28, 2008

Austin, Texas - Five indicted members of a West Texas polygamist sect turned themselves in to authorities Monday to face charges related to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The five men were indicted last week with Warren Jeffs, the already-jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The charges stem from a state investigation into allegations that the sect forced underage girls into marriage and motherhood with much older men.

State authorities raided the FLDS's Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado on April 3, eventually sweeping more than 400 children into foster care until the state Supreme Court said officials had overreached and sent the children home.

Raymond Merrill Jessop, 36, Allan Eugene Keate, 56, Michael George Emack, 57, and Merrill Leroy Jessop, 33, were charged with one count each of sexual assault of a child, a felony punishable by a sentence ranging from five to 99 years or life in prison. Their bond was set at $100,000 each.

Merrill Leroy Jessop also was charged with bigamy, a felony with the same potential penalties as the sexual assault charge.

Lloyd Hammon Barlow, 38, the ranch's onsite physician, was charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. His bond was set at $5,000.

Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday declined to provide details of what the men were accused of doing.

Efforts to find the men's attorneys were not immediately successful. A message left for FLDS attorney Rod Parker was not immediately returned.

Abbott said the state would try to have Jeffs extradited to Texas to face a charge of sexual assault of a child.

Last week's charges were the first since the April raid.

Jeffs has been convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice and is awaiting trial in Arizona on other charges.

Last week, when the indictments were announced, FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said sect members would cooperate.

"We don't believe their evidence is credible," he said. "We don't believe they obtained it legally, but we'll stand up in court and face the allegations," he said. "We believe in our innocence."

Child Protective Services is also continuing its investigation, even with the roughly 440 children returned to their parents six weeks ago.

Agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said last week that investigators will look at the living circumstances of the children associated with the men who were indicted and determine if they are safe.

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

The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glory in heaven, 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 sought to distance itself from the FLDS.

Associated Press writer Jay Root contributed to this report.

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