FLDS back out of evidence fight

Deseret News, Utah/September 23, 2008

Eldorado, Texas - The Fundamentalist LDS Church is backing off of a challenge to a pair of search warrants served during the raid on the YFZ Ranch.

In court papers filed here, lawyers for the Utah-based polygamous church, YFZ Ranch leader Merril Jessop and FLDS member Lyle Jeffs asked to withdraw their requests for a hearing on the search warrant challenge, calling the issue "moot."

The motion lists several reasons why they are withdrawing the challenge. Most notably, none of them have been charged with a crime.

"Accordingly, movants are not 'defendants' in any criminal proceeding," attorneys Daniel Hurley and Cynthia Orr wrote.

Six FLDS members, including church leader Warren Jeffs, have been indicted by a grand jury here on charges ranging from sexual assault of a child to bigamy to failure to report child abuse. Those men now are expected to file their own challenges to suppress any evidence seized from the YFZ Ranch that could be used against them in court.

"These individuals (Dr. Lloyd Hammond Barlow, Raymond Merril Jessop, Allan Eugene Keate, Michael Emack, and Merril Leroy Jessop) have an adequate remedy of law to vindicate the rights which were at issue in movants' motions ..., " the attorneys wrote.

A hearing was scheduled Oct. 1 in nearby San Angelo to consider the evidence challenge. That hearing is not expected to go forward. The motion comes after Texas authorities argued in court papers their search warrants were constitutionally valid and based on probable cause.

"Both affidavits set forth facts establishing probable cause on each element of sexual assault of a child (both warrants) and bigamy (second warrant) and properly allege a particular description of the property to be served," deputy Texas Attorney General Stephen R. Lupton wrote.

The April 3 raid on the YFZ Ranch was based upon a phone call to a family crisis shelter hotline by a 16-year-old girl named "Sarah," who claimed to be pregnant and in an abusive, polygamous marriage to a man named Dale Barlow. Texas child welfare workers and law enforcement responded to search for the girl. She was never found, but authorities said they witnessed other criminal violations prompting the second warrant.

A Colorado woman is considered a "person of interest" in the investigation into the apparent hoax call that prompted the raid. The grand jury will meet here again today in the ongoing criminal probe of the FLDS Church.

Approximately 439 children were removed from the ranch but returned two months later when a pair of Texas courts ruled the state acted improperly and the children were not at immediate risk of abuse. As the nation's largest child custody case drags on, Texas Child Protective Services is seeking to drop children from court oversight. Reasons vary from no evidence of abuse to families complying with requirements to protect their children.

On Monday, CPS filed to have four more children "nonsuited," said agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins. That brings the number of people dropped from the case to 300. The Deseret News tally includes 26 FLDS women that CPS initially believed were minors, but eventually conceded were adults.

Only one girl has been ordered to be returned to foster care: a 14-year-old authorities allege was married at age 12 to Warren Jeffs. A judge ruled the girl's mother was unable to protect her from abuse.

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