Judge's orders aimed to protect Jeffs' daughter from sect member

The Dallas Morning News/June 4, 2008

Eldorado, Texas - A judge Tuesday set special conditions for the release from state custody of a 16-year-old daughter of polygamist sect prophet Warren Jeffs after the girl's lawyer complained she'd been sexually abused by a man in the group and might be in danger.

While 397 of the sect's 440 children in the custody of Child Protective Services had been released by late Tuesday, Mr. Jeffs' daughter was the only one accorded special protections, said her lawyer, Natalie Malonis of Flower Mound.

State District Judge Barbara Walther of San Angelo allowed the girl to be released to her mother, Annette Jeffs, at a Midland foster care facility after ordering the mother to keep her in the San Antonio area where she lives - and away from the alleged perpetrator, a 38-year-old sect member.

The judge may impose additional restrictions, Ms. Malonis said.

"She was very concerned about, 'Will the parent be able to protect her?' " Ms. Malonis said of Judge Walther.

Ms. Malonis said CPS and law enforcement had evidence that the girl was sexually abused, though they don't believe she's ever been pregnant.

CPS lawyer Gary Banks and Tim Edwards of San Angelo, attorney for the girl's mother, helped craft the special order. It orders Annette Jeffs not to return to the ranch with the girl.

The order also prohibits the girl from seeing her father, Mr. Jeffs, but Ms. Malonis said that was "standard" in CPS cases because Mr. Jeffs is a convicted sex offender. He is awaiting trial in Arizona on a charge of coercing an underage girl into a "spiritual" marriage with her 19-year-old cousin - a charge similar to one he was convicted of last fall in Utah.

Meanwhile, only a few sect families trickled back to the group's Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado. Many remained elsewhere in the state out of fear that CPS may "tear away" their children again, said sect spokesman Willie Jessop.

Edson P. Jessop Jr. and his wife, Zavenda Young, returned to the ranch Tuesday afternoon in a pickup loaded with bicycles and toys - and their four children.

"They hardly slept; they were just so excited," Ms. Young said.

She said their first words on being released from state custody Monday were, "Are we really going to go?"

The parents drove to Waco and retrieved sons Zachary, 9, and Ephraim, 7, from the Methodist Children's Home. They then headed for Houston to fetch son Russell, 5, and daughter, Annie, 3.

Ms. Young said she had noticed on regular visits that on some days her children "are not the same." She said they endured "one trauma after another" and will need help for years in getting past recent events.

Both parents, though, heaped praise on the children's caregivers, especially at Boys & Girls Country near Houston.

"They literally cried when we took them away," Ms. Young said.

She predicted a difficult relationship ahead with CPS, which under an order Judge Walther signed Monday can interview the children and have them undergo psychological evaluations. The couple is required to take parenting classes.

"They are hard people to trust," Ms. Young said of CPS workers.

On Tuesday, Judge Walther continued to receive initial results of DNA tests administered to sect children and many parents.

CPS spokeswoman Shari Pulliam said the test results are crucial.

"Our investigation is going to continue," she said, "And the DNA testing is a very important part of that investigation."

While the Texas Rangers and state attorney general's office pursue possible criminal charges against certain men in the sect, CPS says it needs the test results to establish family relationships.

"That's a piece of the puzzle we don't have, to figure out who we're going to be working with," Ms. Pulliam said.

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran expects indictments to be returned against some sect members in the next several months.

Gov. Rick Perry, who indicated last month that he was proud of the actions taken by CPS, warned through a spokeswoman that Friday's decision by the Texas Supreme Court ordering the sect children's release could place youngsters in danger.

"The governor is concerned that the legal process by which the children were removed from their home is overshadowing the sexual abuse allegations at hand," said Perry's deputy press secretary, Allison Castle.

"He is very troubled that the children, especially those most at risk for abuse in this case - young girls - are being sent back to the very compound that is riddled with uncertainty, potential for harm and remains at the center of a very serious criminal investigation," Ms. Castle said.

The sect has denied there is any greater prevalence of child abuse in its ranks than in mainstream society. It says Texas swept its more than 450 children into custody two months ago in an act of religious persecution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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