Witness: FLDS men lead all aspects of sect life

Associated Press/November 4, 2009

Eldorado, Texas - Women in a polygamist sect were taught that their fathers or husbands and the sect's prophet had the right to direct every aspect of their lives, a former member testified Wednesday in the child sexual abuse trial of a current sect member.

"As a woman you have no direct connection to God," said Rebecca Musser, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. "Every area of our lives was directed by the church and their teachings."

Musser left the church in 2002 and never lived at the Yearning For Zion Ranch, the site of a state raid in April 2008 that led to the trial of 38-year-old Raymond Jessop, who is accused of marrying an underage girl in the sect. Prosecutors asked Musser to talk about her experience in the FLDS and how church records are kept.

Jessop is the first man from the sect to face trial since the raid. The girl he is accused of marrying when she was 15 had been "reassigned" to Jessop from his brother, according to records seized by authorities. If convicted, Jessop faces 20 years in prison.

The prosecution is relying heavily on records and dictations by jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs that were seized from the ranch. In one dictation, Jeffs indicates that he advised people at the ranch to avoid taking the girl to the hospital even though she had been in labor for days.

"I knew that the girl being 16 years old, if she went to the hospital, they could put Raymond Jessop in jeopardy of prosecution as the government is looking for any reason to come against us there," wrote Jeffs, who became the sect's prophet after his father's death in 2002.

Texas District Judge Barbara Walther ruled that jurors would only see a portion of that statement. Many of the documents were heavily redacted with some pages almost completely blacked out to avoid discussions of plural marriage. Jessop, who authorities say had nine wives, is charged with bigamy but will be tried on that charge separately.

Prosecutors sought to establish with Musser that the records were kept as a normal part of church business in an effort to make them admissible in the trial. While ordering some sections redacted, Walther agreed the records taken from enormous concrete vaults in the sect's towering temple and an annex building should be allowed.

Musser, who was once married to Jeffs' elderly father and later testified against Jeffs at his trial in Utah, said Jeffs kept detailed accounts of his interactions with FLDS members because he believed God would hold him accountable.

"He is to teach and govern the people and record it all, because in their culture, he has to answer to God," she said. "Every area of our life was governed by the dictates of the prophet."

Besides Jeffs' teachings, other records outlining family trees, marriages and baptisms also were carefully kept because the FLDS believe they'll be needed to receive credit in heaven, Musser said.

Jeffs was convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape. He is jailed in Arizona awaiting trial on charges related to underage marriages there and faces sexual assault and bigamy charges in Texas.

Walther said late Wednesday that the trial of Jessop could wrap up Thursday afternoon.

In all, 12 men from the sect have been indicted on charges ranging from failure to report child abuse to sexual assault. The 439 children taken from the ranch and placed in foster care after the raid have all been returned to their parents or other relatives, but the seized documents resulted in the criminal charges.

The FLDS is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago and does not recognize the FLDS. Historically based around the Arizona-Utah state line, the FLDS bought a ranch about six years ago in Eldorado, about 150 miles northwest of San Antonio, and began building massive homes and a towering temple.

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