Photos show birthing center at sect's Texas ranch

The Associated Press/November 2, 2009

Eldorado, Texas - A birthing center on the bottom floor of a log cabin-style building at a polygamist group's West Texas ranch was set up like a medical office with one distict difference: A portrait of jailed polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs hung over the delivery bed.

Jurors in the first criminal trial since Texas authorities raided the Yearning For Zion Ranch were shown 19 photos of the birthing center Monday as Texas Ranger Bart Bivens identified the items in the images.

Most of the photos were typical of a medical office where babies are delivered. The birthing center had a baby scale, diapers and bottles. It also had a bed that could be equipped with metal stirrups for examinations and deliveries.

A portrait of Jeffs, who is revered by the sect as a prophet but was also convicted as an accomplice to rape in Utah, could be seen on the wall over the bed.

The photos were introduced into evidence by prosecutors in the case against 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sexual assault of a child. The charge stems from his alleged marriage to an underage girl who gave birth in August 2005.

Defense attorney Mark Stevens said there was no credible evidence that the girl, now 21, was assaulted or gave birth at the ranch, which is run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Bivens conceded under cross-examination that he did not know whether the birthing center was built before the alleged victim gave birth.

FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop said in an interview later that the building was not constructed until sometime after 2005, though he did not know the exact date. Willie Jessop is a distant relative of the defendant, and their last name is common in the FLDS community.

"There's a lot more than one clinic out there," said Willie Jessop, who argued the photos were misleading. "They just throw everything and the kitchen sink in there."

Monday marked the second day jurors in this tiny community heard evidence in the case. Much of the day was spent with witnesses testifying about chain of custody on various pieces of evidence, but jurors did hear from a forensic analyst.

Analyst Amy Smuts testified her analysis found a 99.999998 percent probability that Raymond Jessop was the father of the alleged victim's daughter, now 4.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Nichols said during a hearing, with the jury waiting in a separate room, that the alleged victim was moved to the ranch and placed in a so-called "celestial marriage" with Raymond Jessop in November 2003, when she was 15. In previous court filings, prosecutors have said Jessop had nine wives.

He has been indicted on bigamy, but that charge involves a different woman and will be tried later.

Jeffs is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on charges related to underage marriages arranged there. Arguments on his Utah conviction were scheduled to go before the Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday. He also has been indicted in Texas on sexual assault of a child and bigamy charges.

In all, a dozen FLDS men have been indicted since Texas authorities raided the Yearning For Zion Ranch and took 439 children in state custody in April 2008. The custody decision was later reversed by an appellate court, but documents seized during the raid are being used by prosecutors in the trials.

The FLDS, a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven. Historically centered around the Arizona-Utah line, the sect bought a ranch near Eldorado and began building multifamily homes, a dairy and an enormous limestone temple about six years ago.

The Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the FLDS.

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