YFZ leader refuses to answer at deposition

The Associated Press/January 28, 2009

San Angelo, Texas - The head of a polygamist sect's West Texas ranch invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination more than 250 times in a deposition taken Friday.

The San Angelo Standard-Times obtained a copy of the deposition transcript Wednesday and reported on its Web site that Merril Jessop invoked his Fifth Amendment right on 267 occasions when questioned by an attorney appointed for an alleged underage bride taken from the Yearning For Zion Ranch last year.

Natalie Malonis, the attorney for a 17-year-old who had previously sought to have her replaced, asked numerous questions about the sect's finances. The teen was allegedly married to Jessop's 36-year-old son when she was 15.

"Upon the advice of counsel, he's exerting his Fifth Amendment (rights)," Jessop's attorney, Amy Hennington, said early in the session. "The basis is that there is potential state investigation still ongoing, as well as criminal investigations under the Mann Act out of the U.S. Attorney's office."

The Mann Act, a federal law, prohibits the transportation of people across state lines for the purpose of sexual activity. Some prosecutors and lawmakers have suggested it should be used to target groups like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is based on the Utah-Arizona line, but bought the ranch in West Texas and land elsewhere in the West.

Jessop faces a felony charge in Texas of conducting an illegal marriage ceremony involving a minor, an accusation stemming from the alleged marriage of his then-12-year-old daughter to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, who faces additional charges in Arizona and Texas, was convicted in Utah in 2007 as an accomplice to rape for the underage marriage of a sect girl.

The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

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