Firsthand account: Former FLDS member tells of her time inside the sect

San Angelo Standard-Times/December 11, 2009

San Angelo, Texas - Jurors at the Allan Keate trial were given a firsthand account Friday of life as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Rebecca Musser, a former FLDS member, took the witness stand to describe her 26 years with the FLDS up to 2002.

Keate is charged with child sexual assault in connection with allegations that he consummated a "spiritual" marriage with an underage girl in 2006. He is among 10 men from the polygamist sect facing the same charges and the second to go to trial.

Proceedings are being held in a temporary courtroom in the Memorial Building in Eldorado, a few miles from the Yearning For Zion Ranch that has been the focus of intense attention since the state's historic raid there last year. The first of the 10 men, Raymond Merril Jessop, was tried in the same room in November, was found guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Musser testified she had attended and briefly taught at an FLDS school in Salt Lake City before being "placed with" Prophet Rulon Jeffs, who was the spiritual leader of the FLDS at the time, in an FLDS community in Arizona.

Men and women did not mingle freely and they never dated, Musser said. The prophet would tell them whom to marry.

"They were to keep themselves pure," Musser said of the FLDS women. "She is told who she belongs to."

Musser said she received thousands of hours of instruction on the sect's priesthood, which she defined as "the power of God on earth."

She also stressed the importance of recordkeeping among FLDS followers, saying that if important events — marriages, births, baptisms, etc. — were not recorded on earth in the Book of Remembrance — essentially church records — they wouldn't be noticed in heaven in the Book of Life.

"If it's not recorded in heaven, you don't gain eternal salvation," Musser said. "That is death. That is hell."

She said that when she was married to Jeffs, the records were kept in a vault in a secret room in their house because they had no temple to house them.

When the state conducted its historic raid in April 2008 on the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado, officials took hundreds of boxes of such documents.

That raid, triggered by a hoax call, led to the removal of 439 children from the ranch who later were returned to their families. The documents are being used against the 10 sect men indicted in November 2008. Keate was among those 10.

Earlier in the Keate trial, which began with jury selection on Monday, law enforcement personnel gave jurors descriptions of the interiors of buildings such as the Temple, the Temple Annex and the schoolhouse.

Aaron Grigsby, who was a Texas Ranger at the time of the raid, said the first floor of the Temple had many "earthen tones" such as green and brown, that the second floor was predominantly "sky-blue" including its carpet, and that the third floor was all "blinding white."

Grigsby said the Temple Annex building mostly was blue and white like the second and third floors of the Temple.

Another Texas Ranger, Michael Parker, said that inside the schoolhouse was a room completely white, with "a tub as for baptism" and a room with what appeared to be an altar.

Defense attorney Randy Wilson in his cross examination focused on the property that law enforcement destroyed when breaking entry into buildings such as the Temple and Temple Annex.

"Is it a fair statement that there was quite a bit of damage in breaching these areas?" Wilson said.

"Yes," Grigsby said.

Nichols retorted with his own question.

"Were there efforts made for cooperation to open those doors?" Nichols said.

"Many times," Grigsby said.

The court will meet again at 9:30 a.m. Monday. At the conclusion of Friday's session, 51st District Judge Barbara Walther said she would speak with the jurors individually before they left for the weekend.

Keate, 57, faces five to 99 years in prison, and he has elected to be sentenced by the jury if convicted. Jessop's conviction was on a second-degree felony because his crime occurred before the Texas legislature added an enhancement to the statute. The penalty Keate faces is harsher.

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