CPS drops case involving FLDS leader's teen daughter

But evidence showed she married an older man at 15

Houston Chronicle/February 2, 2009

Texas Child Protective Services notified a judge Monday that it is removing the 17-year-old daughter of jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs from court supervision even though evidence shows her father encouraged her marriage to a 34-year-old sect member.

The teen's removal leaves under court supervision only three of 439 children CPS removed last April from the sect's ranch in Eldorado.

"We have nonsuited (dismissed) cases when we believe that parents or family members have taken steps to protect the children from future abuse or neglect," said Patrick Crimmins, CPS spokesman. "A nonsuit means that in our estimation court oversight is no longer needed to ensure a child's safety."

'Right thing to do'

State District Judge Barbara Walther of San Angelo acknowledged CPS' notice to drop the case from her court with her signature by late afternoon.

"It was the right thing to do," said Mindy Montford, attorney for the teen's mother, Annette Jeffs. "I hope CPS continues on this same course of action."

One of the teen's siblings is among the three children still under court supervision.

Last December, CPS found that there was a "reason to believe" the teen had been abused.

That finding and the agency's decision to have the case dropped seem contradictory to the girl's attorney, Natalie Malonis.

"I don't think it's intellectually honest," said Malonis.

Jeffs' daughter noted in her own diary that she married Raymond Jessop, son of Jeffs' chief deputy, Merril Jessop, at 15.

"The Lord blessed me to go forward in marriage July 27, 2006, the day after I turned 15 years old," the girl wrote in a journal recovered by law enforcement after the April raid. Jeffs' own records showed he officiated at his teenage daughter's wedding to Jessop. Tip believed to be hoax

Jeffs is the leader of the nation's largest polygamist sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

CPS caseworkers were sent to the FLDS' Yearning For Zion ranch after a caller, in what is now believed to be a hoax, told authorities that underage girls were being forced into abusive marriages.

CPS workers went to the ranch, interviewed several teenagers and then determined that all the children should be removed because they were raised to participate in underage marriages.

Walther approved the removal, and the decision set in motion the nation's largest child custody case and prompted questions as to whether CPS had overstepped its authority.

The children were briefly placed in foster care and then released back to their parents after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the agency could have taken less drastic steps to protect them from possible abuse.

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