San Angelo, Texas — The Texas Third Court of Appeals on Thursday issued an opinion upholding the conviction of a member of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Raymond Merril Jessop, 40, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and an $8,000 fine for a second-degree felony of sexual assault of a child in November 2009. His notice of appeal was filed February 2010, and an appeal brief was filed February 2011. Oral arguments were heard in October.
The court wrote in its 64-page opinion that there had been sufficient evidence for the conviction, that testimony of certain expert witnesses was allowable, and that the indictments didn't need to be quashed or evidence suppressed, all points raised in the appeal.
According to the opinion, the defense said the state had failed to eliminate the possibility of artificial insemination, meaning that proof of penetration was less than conclusive.
DNA evidence during the trial demonstrated with more than 99 percent certainty that Jessop fathered a child with a girl who was 16 at the time of the baby's birth. Jessop had been "sealed" to the girl in 2004, when he was 32 and the victim was 15.
The appeals court stated "it is not incumbent on the state to exclude 'every reasonable hypothesis other than guilt' for the evidence to be considered sufficient."
The court also said a jury can "use their common sense" to make the conclusion that no artificial insemination had been used after the "sealing" the FLDS use to practice multiple marriage, and after Jessop and the victim had lived together at the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch while purporting to be husband and wife.
The appeal also argued there wasn't enough evidence to prove the assault occurred in West Texas as the indictment states, but the appellate justices said the evidence was sufficient.
The appellant argued the DNA testing was unfair, but the justices ruled the procedures were standard and didn't violate a presumption of innocence.
"The evidence in the record reflects that the statistical analysis was performed in the manner accepted by the scientific community," the court opinion states.
Jessop's appeal argued FLDS church documents taken from the YFZ Ranch shouldn't have been used in evidence, that the Schleicher County indictments should have been quashed, that evidence should have been suppressed and that the testimony of two former FLDS member witnesses — Carolyn Jessop and Rebecca Musser — and expert witness psychologist Larry Beall should not have been allowed. The court said the indictments were good to stand and that the evidence needn't have been suppressed.
"The complained-of testimony of Musser, Carolyn Jessop and Dr. Beall provided evidence of the illegal activities of FLDS," the appellate court wrote. "From their testimony, the jury learned that the doctrine and practices of FLDS promote underage and plural marriages that result in the sexual assault of children and the commission of bigamy. Musser and Carolyn Jessop testified about the underage marriages, polygamous practices, reassignment of wives and sexual activity with underage children practiced by the sect. Dr. Beall provided information of the harmful impact of underage marriages, polygamous marriages, and sexual assault on children, demonstrating the injurious nature of the organization's activities.
"We conclude that appellant's membership in an organization that promotes and practices polygamy and underage marriages that result in the sexual assault of children is relevant to the question of appellant's character for purposes of punishment."
Eleven other FLDS men have been convicted on the basis of evidence found in an April 2008 raid on the ranch by law enforcement who were investigating allegations of sexual assault occurring there. FLDS members have been found guilty of child sexual assault, bigamy and performing illegal marriage ceremonies. The sect leader, Warren Jeffs, has been imprisoned for life plus 20 years for two counts of child sexual assault as the result of a conviction in August.
The court opinion incorrectly states that Jessop was sentenced to eight years. He is serving 10 years at the Boyd Unit in Teague in north central Texas, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice records.