Sealed agreement reached on dispute over FLDS infant

Go San Angelo, Texas/November 26, 2008

Attorneys reached an agreement Tuesday over a teen girl's refusal to divulge the whereabouts of her 5-month-old baby to the state's Child Protective Services agency.

The agreement, which is under seal, headed off what could have been a messy conflict between the girl, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and 51st District Judge Barbara Walther, who had ordered her to answer questions about the location of her child.

"There was an agreement reached," CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said, "but on the direction of the judge, we can't talk about it."

The girl's refusal to divulge the whereabouts of her infant set in motion a chain of events in which Walther essentially forced the attorneys to reach an agreement to avoid a scenario in which the girl could have been jailed for contempt of court.

Walther unexpectedly left the Tom Green County Courthouse while the sides were negotiating, surprising observers and attorneys alike, telling an attorney on her way out of the building, "I trust you'll get it resolved."

Just after 5 p.m., CPS attorneys left the courthouse, followed soon after by attorneys for the girl and her mother.

All attorneys declined to comment.

"I really can't say anything," said Kelly J. Ellis, the girl's attorney.

The hearing had been delayed from last week after the girl did not appear in court.

Walther ordered the girl to bring her child to court Tuesday for the hearing, which was to decide whether the state should be allowed to observe the girl's interaction with the baby and do a DNA test.

The girl showed up; her infant did not.

"The baby is not here, so they have defied the court's order," CPS attorney John Dolezal told the judge, asking to put the 17-year-old on the stand to testify about where the infant was.

The girl initially pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked whether the baby stayed with her at her given address in San Antonio.

But after consultation with Ellis, she answered that the child at one time did stay with her at that location but was not there anymore.

The girl told Dolezal the baby is out of state.

"I don't know right now" the exact whereabouts of the child, she said. "She is traveling."

When Dolezal asked where the infant was being taken, the girl shut down.

"I refuse to answer that question," she said, and when pressed on why she refused, she said: "I just don't want anyone to know where she is."

Ellis then consulted with the girl again.

The attorney quietly told Walther the girl knew the potential repercussions of refusing to answer a question when instructed to by the court.

"Ma'am, the court instructs you to answer the question," Walther said.

"I refuse to answer," the girl replied.

Walther recessed the court and called the attorneys into her chambers, where - as she has been known to do, especially during this case - she tersely ordered both sides to reach an agreement.

Soon after, she left the courthouse.

The girl gave birth to her child June 14, just 10 days after CPS returned the last of 439 children taken from the YFZ Ranch northeast of Eldorado in April to their parents.

CPS had alleged a pervasive pattern of sexual abuse and forced "marriages" among members of the sect, which still practices a form of polygamy intended to be acceptable to society. Walther ruled in favor of CPS. Higher courts overruled Walther, requiring the children's return.

A CPS motion filed this month alleged the girl was married to an older man at age 14.

In a hearing last week, Dolezal told Walther that CPS had received no cooperation from the girl or her mother when making unannounced visits to the given location.

The girl testified Tuesday that while she lives at the address, she spends more than half her time visiting with friends and often does not spend the night there.

After the sides reached the agreement, Texas Ranger Sgt. Nick Hanna and an investigator from the Texas Attorney General's Office told the girl they needed to serve a search warrant, immediately after which courthouse security cleared the building, telling reporters and observers it was closed.

The warrant was for a DNA sample, said sect spokesman Willie Jessop - a move Jessop criticized, noting that samples were taken of all children by court order in April.

The girl's defiance is CPS' own fault, Jessop said, adding that the girl is afraid CPS will take custody of her baby while the child is in San Angelo and accuse her of abuse or neglect.

"There's been an absolutely tremendous breakdown of trust," Jessop said.

"That's what her belief was. Who could change her mind?"

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