FLDS: Following a 'prophet'

'Historic year' for imprisoned FLDS leader

San Angelo Standard-Times, Texas/December 29, 2011

San Angelo, Texas -- For the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2011 was the year its prophet fell, and the year several scandals previously only rumored about the polygamist sect were revealed in court.

Sex beds in the temple, audio of the ritualistic sexual assault of a child, running from the FBI in disguise — all these facts and more came out in the trial of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who was convicted in August of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15. Jeffs now is serving life plus 20 years in a Texas prison.

"The evidence that came out in Mr. Jeffs' trial and the lack of fulfillment of prophecies it has been a historic year," said Willie Jessop, an FLDS member who once spoke on behalf of the church but no longer is loyal to Jeffs.

He said the year's proceedings have unveiled a betrayal of most FLDS members by church leaders.

Pretrial hearings spilled over from the previous year for Jeffs and led to a bevy of attorneys representing him: Richard Wright of Nevada helped Jeffs unofficially at the beginning; Gerry Morris of Austin was fired by Jeffs the day he hired him; then Fred Brigman of San Angelo was appointed; then Jeff Kearney and Reagan Wynn of Fort Worth came as replacement.

Each time, the new attorney would ask the court for more time to review the hundreds of boxes of evidence seized from a raid on the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch, enough documents to fill a 600-square-foot room floor to ceiling.

Events that played out in 2011 were triggered by the original raid of the YFZ Ranch in Schleicher County in April 2008, when law enforcement officials investigated what would turn out to be a hoax phone call. The state removed more than 400 children, who weeks later were ordered returned to their parents under an opinion from the Texas Supreme Court. Evidence seized during the raid was used nevertheless to convict 10 men thus far of crimes ranging from bigamy to sexual assault of a child.

Amid a flurry of pretrial hearings this year, Jeffs took advantage of his new jail freedom in Big Lake, where he had been housed, to tighten his grip on his followers by using hundreds of dollars worth of phone cards to issue instructions.

Sources in and out of the FLDS said Jeffs was excommunicating a steady stream of people. He also reinstated himself as the official president of the sect, filing records with the state of Utah to reclaim the title.

Followers visited him in jail, including his brother Lyle Jeffs, who once brought two FLDS women to see Jeffs.

Since Warren Jeffs' conviction and imprisonment, Lyle Jeffs has continued to act as a liaison and enforcer, according to those in the sect.

Jeffs last was reported to be housed in the Powledge Unit in Palestine, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said Jeffs has been making calls from prison. The department is investigating two of those calls as possibly having been recorded or broadcast to a group, which is a violation of prison policy, said Michelle Lyons, a department spokeswoman.

"He may somehow have recorded a conversation," she said in late December.

FLDS legal developments seemed about to change after the Texas Third Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Michael Emack, who pleaded no contest to charges of child sexual assault and bigamy in 2010. He was serving a seven-year prison sentence. The appeal in part challenged the warrants used to secure evidence on which the convictions of all the FLDS men were based.

It wasn't until after Jeffs' trial that the appellate court upheld the warrants.

Jeffs trial was pushed back from the beginning of the year until July 25, but in the weeks and days before the trial began, Jeffs tried to remove 51st District Judge Barbara Walther from presiding, saying that she was biased. He said she was fearful of the FLDS and criticized her demeanor in previous FLDS trials.

Nothing prevented the trials from coming, with Walther on the bench.

After the jury was selected and halfway through a suppression hearing, after failing to keep out evidence from the YFZ Ranch, Jeffs had had enough of his counsel.

He asked to be rid of seven high-powered attorneys and represented himself, although his new, last-minute attorney, Deric Walpole, and Emily Detoto stayed on as advisory counsel. Walpole represented him during the penalty phase of the trial but was forbidden by his client to deliver a closing argument.

Throughout the trial, Jeffs launched into long speeches. He focused on freedom of religion. He protested that the jury didn't understand the FLDS religion and thus couldn't judge it. For his defense during the guilt or innocence phase of the trial, he put one of his own followers on the stand to read from writings sacred to the FLDS, and virtually had the witness confess to bigamy.

At times he was silent, as he was for 25 minutes for his own closing arguments. Then, standing in front of the jurors, he smiled slightly at them with five minutes of his allotted time left, turned toward the judge and said, "I am at peace."

His soft, but at times firm, pleas were nevertheless drowned out by facts presented in the case: That Jeffs had married a 12-year-old girl and committed ritualistic sex with her, sex recorded as part of Jeffs' meticulous records. That he had group sex with other girls. That he impregnated a 15-year-old girl. That he had 79 "wives," 24 of them underage. That he had performed and been a part of 550 bigamous marriages. That he had instructed his followers to construct beds for sexual purposes in the temple at the YFZ Ranch. That he had paraded with motorcycles with his favorite "wife" while on the run from the FBI.

He faced sentences of life and 20 years in prison. He got both.

"With law enforcement collaboration we processed a mountain of evidence to present to a jury, which ultimately convicted Warren Jeffs and sentenced him to life in prison for the unthinkable crimes he committed against children," said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman with the office of the attorney general of Texas.

In prison, he was put in protective custody, and a debilitating fast and other medical complications put him in hospitals around the state for a month. He began a practice, which continues, of sending warnings of death and destruction to political leaders and judges around the country.

Jeffs wasn't the only FLDS leader to undergo prosecution.

Fredrick Merril Jessop, once a YFZ Ranch bishop, went to trial in Robert Lee on charges of performing an illegal ceremony, marrying Jeffs' 12-year-old victim to the "prophet." Jessop had 22 wives, the state alleged, and treated his children with abuse.

He received the maximum sentence for the crime: 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The former president of the FLDS, Wendell Loy Nielsen, initially took a plea deal for three counts of bigamy and received a 10-year probated sentence. After he couldn't get his probation transferred to Colorado where he has family, and after deciding he didn't like the conditions of his probation, he got his plea arrangement rescinded and opted to go to trial.

His trial is scheduled for Jan. 24 in San Angelo, and he faces between two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine on each of the three counts he faces.

Jeffs is scheduled to return to San Angelo in the new year for his own bigamy trial, with a pretrial hearing set for Friday. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 15. He faces a first-degree bigamy charge because the alleged victim was under 16 years old. It is punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

The last person to be prosecuted could be Lloyd Hammond Barlow, who is charged with three class B misdemeanors of failure to report child abuse. Schleicher County officials said his prosecution may not get under way until after the other trials are finished.

Barlow was the doctor at the ranch.

"In addition to Jeffs' life sentence, nine other YFZ Ranch defendants were convicted of sexual assault of a child, bigamy or other felony charges," Bean said, in a wrap up of the year of her office. "Two other YFZ Ranch defendants are awaiting trial, and we look forward to presenting the evidence and bringing them to justice as well."


The 10 members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints convicted on the basis of evidence seized in the April 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch are serving sentences in these locations:

Name Sentence (sentencing date) Location

Keate, Allan Eugene 33 years (December 2009) Stevenson Unit in Cuero

Emack, Michael 7 years (April 2010) Ware Unit in Colorado City

Jessop, Merril Leroy 75 years (March 2010) Wynne Unit in Huntsville

Jeffs, Lehi Barlow 8 years (April 2010) Diboll Unit in Diboll

Dutson, Keith William Jr. 6 years (November 2010) Wallace Unit in Colorado City

Jessop, Fredrick Merril 10 years (November 2011) Jester 3 Unit in Richmond

Steed, Leroy Johnson 7 years (November 2011) Middleton Unit in Abilene

Jessop, Raymond Merril 10 years (November 2009) Boyd Unit in Teague

Jeffs, Abram Harker 17 years (June 2010) Roach Unit in Childress

Jeffs, Warren Steed Life plus 20 years (August 2011) Powledge Unit in Palestine

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