FLDS TRIAL: Rangers detail raid on YFZ Ranch

Sect members uncooperative, man testifies

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/March 12, 2010

San Angelo, Texas - Ranch dwellers told the Texas Rangers lightning would strike them if they broke into their sacred limestone building.

That's according to Texas Rangers who testified Friday to their part in the April 2008 raid of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Yearning for Zion Ranch outside of Eldorado.

Merril Leroy Jessop, 35, a member of the polygamous sect, is on trial, charged with sexual assault of a child in connection with a allegations he illegally married an underage girl.

Friday was the fifth day of the trial that began with jury selection Monday and has covered testimony from more than a dozen witnesses.

"They were on their knees, crying," Texas Ranger Jesse Valdez said in describing the people who watched him and others gain access to what was known as the temple annex. "The lightning never came."

Valdez testified about having entered a vault in that same building.

In Courtroom A of the Tom Green County Courthouse, prosecutors used a picture enlarged by a projector to show the jury an open vault door with a hole less than 3 feet wide breaching a concrete wall several inches thick.

"I removed all my outer clothing and entered with a flashlight and a pistol, unsure of what I would encounter," Valdez said.

Inside the vault, law enforcement personnel found many cabinets containing boxes of personal and church records.

Texas Ranger Aaron Grigsby described the inside of the temple on the compound.

He said the first story had earth tones, the second blues and the top story was pure white, down to the furniture.

He said one of the corridors had a mural on either side. One side depicted animals living peaceably together.

"The other side was a bit of the natural anarchy of nature," Grigsby said.

He described predators chasing prey on the anarchist side.

Grigsby told the defense that he acted as a sniper to provide protection for the officers.

"Did you make any observation of (gun seizure) going on?" lead defense attorney Dan Hurley said.

"No, sir," Grigsby said.

Law enforcement personnel said on previous days that several legal hunting rifles and assault rifles were recovered.

Texas Ranger Don Williams explained pictures of rows of cabinets and gun safes. The cabinets and safes, which contained numerous church records, were located inside a vault in the temple.

Brandon Hudson, one of the defense attorneys, asked about the attitudes of ranch dwellers toward law enforcement as they raided the ranch.

"Would you say the men and women were distrustful?" Hudson said.

Williams said they were.

Williams said the locksmith took hours to open the vault door.

Hudson pointed out the damage done to the framing around the side of the vault.

"Were there attempts to enter without having to break the locks?" Wes Mau, one of the prosecuting attorneys, asked.

"Yes, sir," Williams said. The residents, he said, were not cooperative about opening the safe. "I thought it was very possible someone might be in that vault."

Hudson noted that the person they were searching for - a 16-year-old named Sarah - never was found, and the call that led to the April 2008 raid on the ranch was determined to be a hoax call from a woman who claimed to have been abused and living on the ranch.

After the jury was excused early at 4:15 p.m., the defense asked the judge to allow them to request the medical records of 35 people who are associated with a psychologist scheduled to give testimony next week for the prosecution.

The defense attorneys said they wanted to gauge whether the psychologist was lying in his conclusions, to see if he had hypnotized any of his patients and to find out if any money linked the patients to groups critical of the FLDS.

Fifty-first District Judge Barbara Walther denied the defense access to those records.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday but is expected to adjourn early to allow court workers to attend a funeral.

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