10 years for polygamist sect member in sex assault

Associated Press/November 11, 2009

Eldoradp, Texas - The first polygamist sect member to face criminal trial following the raid of a West Texas ranch was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for sexually assaulting an underage girl with whom he had a so-called "spiritual marriage."

Jurors who last week convicted Raymond Jessop, 38, handed down the sentence that includes an $8,000 fine. His attorneys had sought probation for the conviction that could have brought him up to 20 years in prison.

Jessop, who prosecutors allege has nine wives, still faces a separate bigamy charge to be tried later. He is the first member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to go on trial since authorities raided the sect's Yearning For Zion Ranch in April 2008.

The girl in the assault case, now 21, was previously in a spiritual marriage with Jessop's brother before being "reassigned" to Jessop when she was 15, according to documents seized at the ranch. She became pregnant at age 16.

An appeal, planned "as quickly as it can be filed," will challenge the search warrants initially obtained with what authorities now acknowledge were false calls to a domestic abuse hot line, said Willie Jessop, an FLDS spokesman and Raymond Jessop's distant cousin.

"We believe he will be released when the government is held accountable," Willie Jessop said in an interview Tuesday.

The weeklong ranch raid was hounded by missteps early on. After scouring the ranch for days in April 2008 in search of a caller who claimed to be an abused girl, law enforcement acknowledged "Sarah Barlow" didn't exist.

Forensic experts who testified during Raymond Jessop's trial said there was a nearly 100 percent probability Jessop fathered the now 4-year-old daughter of the woman in the case. The woman was on the prosecution's witness list at trial, but did not testify.

Eleven other sect members, including its jailed leader Warren Jeffs, still face separate trials for charges ranging from failure to report child abuse to sexual assault and bigamy.

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

Jeffs, revered by the FLDS as the group's prophet, has been convicted in Utah as an accomplice to rape. He awaits trial in Arizona on charges related to underage marriages there. He'll then face separate sexual assault and bigamy charges in Texas.

Jeffs led followers six years ago to buy a 1,700-acre Texas ranch, where they built a towering limestone temple and sprawling log cabin homes. They remained an insular group until Texas authorities raided the ranch and swept 439 sect children into foster care.

Appellate courts forced the return of the children to their parents or other relatives, but documents seized in the raid were used to build criminal cases against sect men.

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