Image: Warren Jeffs
Mohave County Sheriff's Office  /  AP file
Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is accused of sexual assault.
updated 7/22/2008 8:42:55 PM ET 2008-07-23T00:42:55

A Texas grand jury on Tuesday indicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs and five of his followers.

Jeffs was charged with felony sexual assault of a child.

Four of his followers were charged with one count of sexually assaulting girls under the age of 17. One of the four faced an additional charge of bigamy, Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

A fifth follower was charged with three counts of failure to report child abuse, Abbott said.

The charges followed an ill-fated child custody case in which more than 400 children were placed in foster care. The Texas Supreme Court ruled child welfare authorities overstepped in taking all the children from their parents even though many were infants and toddlers.

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leaders have consistently denied there was any abuse at the ranch and vowed not to sanction underage marriages.

Secret proceedings
Grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret, but documents released as part of the separate child custody case involving the FLDS children have revealed some of the evidence collected by law enforcement during the weeklong raid of the ranch.

Among the hundreds of boxes of photos, documents and family Bibles, investigators found photos of Jeffs kissing and intimately embracing several apparently teenage girls.

A journal entry purportedly from Jeffs attached to a report by a child advocate indicates he married his daughter to a 34-year-old man the day after she turned 15. The girl turns 17 on Saturday and has denied being married, though the child advocate report indicates intimate notes between the girl and man were also found in the raid.

The girl, who playfully climbed a giant oak tree while waiting to be called to testify last month, left the community building frowning as she talked to her lawyer. The Associated Press is not identifying her because authorities believe she may be a sexual abuse victim.

Plural marriages
Under Texas law, a girl younger than 17 cannot generally consent to sex with an adult. Bigamy is also illegal in Texas, although FLDS members in plural marriages did not get Texas marriage licenses.

In addition to discussions of the girl’s marriage, the Jeffs journal entry also indicates he blessed marriages of two other underage sect members.

A call to a spokeswoman for Abbott was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glory in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon church, which officially renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Jeffs, who is revered as a prophet, is jailed in Arizona awaiting charges related to the marriages of young girls. He was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for his role in the marriage of a 14-year-old last year.

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