Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three FLDS men face charges

Excerpts from Polygamist ranch leader indicted:
A 72-year-old elder of a breakaway polygamist Mormon sect and two other church members surrendered to authorities Monday to face felony charges relating to the underage marriage of girls to older men.

Fredrick "Merril" Jessop, a leader in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who oversaw the sect's West Texas ranch, faces one count of conducting an unlawful marriage ceremony involving a minor on July 27, 2006 — the same day one of his daughters was allegedly married to jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. She was 12 at the time and is now the only child from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in foster care after her mother refused to cooperate with child welfare authorities.

The two other men who turned themselves in Monday are:

_ Wendell Loy Nielsen, 68, charged with three counts of bigamy. The indictment includes few details, but church records released as part of a separate child custody case list 21 women married to Nielsen in August 2007.

_ Leroy Johnson Steed, 42, who is charged with sexual assault of a child, bigamy and tampering with evidence. Church records show Steed married to a 16-year-old girl in March 2007.

One of Merril Jessop's wives, Carolyn, fled the FLDS community on the Arizona-Utah line with her children in 2003 and wrote a best-selling book, "Escape."

In all, 12 FLDS men have been indicted since Texas authorities raided the ranch in April looking for evidence of underage girls forced into marriages and sex with older men.

Child welfare authorities have dropped most of the cases involving the 439 children taken from the YFZ Ranch; only about three dozen remain under court oversight.

The FLDS, which believes polygamy bring glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

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