Sect mother denies telling daughter to manipulate caseworkers

Houston Chronicle/February 4, 2009

The mother of the 14-year-old bride of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs did not coach the girl to manipulate Texas caseworkers through cell phone texts, attorneys for the woman said Wednesday.

The girl, the only one of the 439 children removed by last year by Texas Department of Child Protective Services from a polygamist sect's ranch in Eldorado who remains in foster care, was found with a cell phone on Jan. 20.

Incoming texts on the cell phone, according to a court report filed last week, instructed the girl to "please stay angry," "crying will get you what you want and "CPS needs to se that you are miserable there."

The girl eventually admitted that her mother, Barbara Jessop, gave her the phone, outraging the girl's guardian, who works for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in San Angelo.

"CASA is shocked that Mrs. Jessop would place her daughter again in a situation where she would be forced to sneak around to communicate," wrote Valerie Trevino, a CASA case manager and the girl's guardian ad litem. "The text messages telling (the girl) how to behave are disturbing."

But attorneys for Jessop say the text messages in the report are not accurate.

"Jessop's attorneys do not believe the statements contained in the CASA report accurately reflect the actual text messages and were taken out of context," said attorneys Valerie J. Malara and Brett Pritchard in a statement issued Wednesday. "It is believed that CASA's report was submitted to the court several days prior to CASA actually receiving the telephone texts from (CPS)."

Debra Brown, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Tom Thumb County, which oversees the CASA program, said Trevino had the foster mother read the texts to her and with the exception of one phrase, the report was accurate. A print out of the texts showed that the girl was told to "stay onery" not "stay angry," Brown said.

The rest of the texts are accurate.

"The texts back up Valerie's (Trevino) report," Brown said.

Jessop's attorneys have asked state district Judge Barbara Walther to seal the report. Walther is scheduled to hear that request on Friday in San Angelo.

Brown said Jessop's attorneys have also asked the judge to issue a gag order, preventing all parties from speaking about the girl's case to the media.

Attempts to reach the attorneys regarding the request for a gag order were unsuccessful late Wednesday.

Both the girl and her mother are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the nation's largest polygamist sect. Last April, after a caller told CPS that underage girls were being forced into marriages with adult men at the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, all of the children were removed from the ranch. The call is now believed to be a hoax.

Records seized from the ranch, including excerpts from Jeffs' journals, indicate the girl was married to Jeffs when she was 12. Jeffs, jailed for his part in arranging underage marriages in Utah, faces similar charges in Texas, along with 11 other men.

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