FLDS TRIAL: 99 percent chance Jessop fathered child, experts say Girl said to be 15 at time of alleged sex assault

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/March 10, 2010

San Angelo, Texas - Two DNA forensic analysts Wednesday told jurors there is a 99 percent chance Merril Leroy Jessop is the father of a child whose mother he allegedly married when she was underage.

Jessop, 35, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County, is on trial for sexual assault of a child in connection with the alleged marriage.

Christina Capt, one of the analysts, put on white rubber gloves, opened a Styrofoam box and lifted out of it an envelope. She showed it to the jury and said it contained a small tube of Jessop's blood.

Capt later showed jurors different points on a chart filled with numbers and the names of the mother and child in question as well as Jessop.

"At each marker, we are examining the genetic makeup of that individual," Capt said, and she circled number indicating genetic material that would have come from the father.

Amy Smuts, another forensic analyst out of the same University of North Texas office, gave the same information.

Before the results, two Texas Rangers testified on the loads of evidence seized at the YFZ Ranch in April 2008.

Danny Crawford, one of the Texas Rangers, also gave "a virtual tour," as lead prosecutor Eric Nichols called it, of the ranch by putting up aerial and ground photographs of the grounds as law enforcement personnel found them.

The defense emphasized the communal nature of the ranch.

"It was village, a community, was it not?" asked Dan Hurley, the lead defense attorney.

"Yes, sir," Crawford said, after having described such facilities as the school, dairy and rock quarry.

In the opening statements earlier in the day, lawyers on either side admonished the jurors to hear facts and make decisions.

"We're now at the stage of the trial where we're not talking about theories of cases," Nichols said.

Nichols, who spoke first, said the indictment provided a basic "road map" of what the state's evidence would show in the case.

He also said substantial genetic evidence would prove the assault beyond a reasonable doubt.

"You will hear that she was not legally married to the defendant. You're going to hear about what is described as a so-called ‘spiritual' or ‘celestial' marriage. You will hear evidence that not only was she placed in a spiritual or celestial marriage, but that she bore him a child," Nichols said.

Nichols said the girl in question was 15 at the time of the alleged assault.

Hurley, for his opening statement, at one point motioned to the wooden railing at the front of the jury box.

"This rail here separates you from the government," Hurley said. "It's a shield. The state cannot reach its burden of proof because they might be guilty, because they're probably guilty - they must be guilty."

Hurley said large amounts of evidence came from the raid on the YFZ Ranch outside of Eldorado when authorities carried out a search warrant to find a girl who reported having suffered abuse on the ranch, a call that law enforcement authorities now believe to have been a hoax.

Hurley said that despite the evidence, the quantity won't be enough to convict his client.

"You will hear about seizures and boxes of evidence that took three trailers to fill up. The simple weight does not give it the quality it needs," Hurley said.

State District Judge Barbara Walther swore in the jury earlier in the morning.

The jury is composed of seven women and seven men to fill the 12 juror and two alternate positions.

Jury selection from a pool of 250 people in Tom Green County began Monday, and the jury was seated Wednesday morning. The trial is being held in Courtroom A at the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo.

Jessop is the third FLDS man to be tried on child sexual assault charges stemming from evidence seized during the April 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch. Another pleaded no contest, and several others have cases pending. All the cases resolved to date have resulted in prison sentences for the defendants.

Jessop's defense attorneys Wednesday morning, prior to the jury being seated, moved to be granted more than the standard 10 peremptory strikes against prospective jurors, citing widespread prejudice against their client, but Walther denied the motion.

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